Top tips on adapting your plant strategy for new soil health practices

When implementing new soil health practices, you will need to familiarize yourself with some new planting conditions.

Once you start practicing reduced tillage and cover cropping, planting in those new soil environments can be an entirely new practice. Depending on the environmental conditions and what field management practices you use in the spring, this will influence the success of your crop establishment. There are a few things you should consider as you start the planting season, including planting date, and emergence uniformity.

Planting considerations

When considering planting date versus emergence uniformity, which conditions have the biggest impact on yield? The answer to this depends on location. Depending on where you're located, you will have an ideal planting date usually within a two to three week window. If you are within your normal ideal planting window, I'd suggest waiting to ensure soil conditions improve before you begin planting so that you don't risk uneven emergence.

What causes uneven emergence?

  • Poor soil conditions
    • Plant in soil temperatures of at least a consistent 50 degrees.
    • Avoid planting when it's still too wet. Soils that are too wet are more likely to compact in the row and/or clod which can prevent good seed to soil contact.
  • Inconsistent seed depth
    • Poorly spread residue can impact seed depth.
    • Planting on last year's crop row can create more work for the plant to punch through and grow.
    • Planting speed can also impact seed depth if you're going too fast.
  • Down pressure not adjusted for the field conditions
    • This might not be something you have had to adjust before but can be incredibly important to adjust when fields have higher amounts of residue from reduced tillage or cover crops.
    • If down pressure is too light, it won't make enough of a trench for the seed or it will cause furrow collapse. When down pressure is too heavy, there's too much compaction which makes it more difficult to close the furrow.

Considerations for different planting conditions

Wet Springs

  • Your cover crop might have grown more than expected, don't panic, if you are planting soybeans they typically do just fine. It is recommended to, after termination with herbicide, flatten the biomass if it isn't already laying down. This prevents leggyness. This is usually done with some sort of roller.
  • You may want to invest in aggressive row cleaners to remove cover crop residue from the planting row as this can also help prevent leggyness.
  • You may want to reduce down pressure to prevent sidewall compaction. It is highly encouraged to get out of the tractor and check when making these adjustments.

Dry Springs

  • If a cover crop is terminated early, this helps create a mat of residue and can store moisture in the soil.
  • Increasing down pressure helps loosen hard dry soil and increase seed to soil contact as well as allow the seed to punch through crop residue. 
  • You may also want to plant deeper to help your seed access the moisture it needs to grow.

Anna Teeter

Anna Teeter recently joined Cargill as Conservation Agronomist with Cargill’s regenerative agriculture program. Her goal is to help farmers successfully implement soil health practices while continuing to advocate for agriculture. Anna brings extensive hands-on experience having worked with the University of Wisconsin-Madison extension services, private ag consulting services, and most recently the Soil Health Partnership, which led her to Cargill. She has a Bachelor of Science in Agronomy and Life Sciences Communications from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Masters of Science in Soil Science.

Top soil health tools recommended by Cargill agronomists

What factors should you consider when planting a corn cover crop?

What impact do C:N ratios have on residue management when adopting new soil health practices?