Submitted by Dr. Tarlok Singh Sahota CCA
Fall is not only a good time for introspection, but also to lay a sound foundation for the next crop season. By the time you see this note, you would know how much yields you got this year and how much your peers got. In case you got less than others, you need to look back what did you miss and what could you do. It is time to talk to those who got record breaking yields and what contributed to such yields. This could help you to maximize your economic yields next year. Some of the other important tasks that you could do in the fall are as follows:
- Soil testing: Take soil samples from your fields (0-15 cm soil depth for basic soil tests and micronutrients, and 0-30 cm for nitrate nitrogen and sulphur); if you haven’t done the soil tests for the last 3 years. Go for micronutrients (zinc, manganese, copper and boron) tests, if you haven’t tested your soils for micronutrients in the recent past. Remember sustaining crop yields with the application of NPK fertilizers alone isn’t possible any more. You may wish to test alfalfa, soybean and corn fields for nitrogen and sulphur too, as soon as the soil temperature comes to 10-14o C or below, so that you are able to discount some residual/or fixed N from these crops next spring. At low temperatures, there is no significant transformation/or losses of nutrients. For details on soil sampling and testing, refer to Soil Fertility Guide (http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/pub611/pub611.pdf). The economic and environmental benefits from a sound fertilizer program, based on soil tests, could be many times the cost of soil testing. If you don’t have time for soil sampling yourself, look for someone providing custom soil sampling/testing services at a reasonable cost.
- Manure testing: Fertilizers are one of the costliest inputs for crop production. Test manure for its nutrients content; to decide on the right rates of manure and fertilizers application to minimize costs on nutrients application/and environmental impacts, and to obtain maximum economic yields. Following two links could be useful for (i) manure sampling and analysis and (ii) manure management:
- Fertilizer application: Fall application of P and K to perennial forage crops is recommended. Take soil and manure tests, targeted yields, crop removal of nutrients and soil test based fertilizer recommendations in to consideration while planning for an optimum fertilizer program. It may be advisable to apply sulphur to alfalfa in the fall. Indication from research at Thunder Bay Agricultural Research Station (TBARS; www.tbars.net) is that sulphur is even more critical than potassium for winter survival of alfalfa. Research at TBARS on hay crops, winter and spring cereals has indicated that even N can be applied in the fall. Prefer a blend of N fertilizers (urea, ESN and ammonium sulphate) than to apply nitrogen from a single N fertilizer. Read more at: http://www.tbars.net/It%20pays%20to%20use%20multiple%20sources%20of%20Nitrogen%20for%20crop%20production.pdf
- Tillage/and application of lime: Direct seeding with a no till drill works well in most situations, especially when there is sufficient soil moisture. However, if you are ripping of fields under perennial forage crops for spring seeding, ploughing could be beneficial to loosen the soil. Zero tilled fields may be too cold in the spring for an early land preparation or seeding particularly in northwestern Ontario. Disking the fields once in the fall and followed by cultivation and seeding in the spring may be a better option as compared to conventional/or zero tillage; more so if you don’t have the no till drill or planter. You could do all tillage operations, including pre-seeding cultivation (after disking) in the fall, after application of fertilizers required for spring crops, and go for direct seeding early in the spring, especially for cereals. We have tested this practice at TBARS and found that there was no difference in grain yield from fall or spring applied N (http://www.tbars.net/Summary_Research_Results_2016.pdf; check at 2.2.1, Bullet 6). Fall tillage is even more important if your soil tests warrant application of lime! For details, please refer to my article on Liming Acidic Soils to Improve Soil and Crop Productivity in Northwest Link, September 2017 (pages 3-5) or at:
- Repair and Maintenance of Machinery/Equipment: You know what to do! Old/worn out parts could be replaced; greasing and oiling should be done. Rusted parts could be cleaned and painted. Keeping machinery/equipment in good condition will help prolonging its life and could also eliminate unwanted breaks/or hindrances in farm operations at crucial times next spring and summer.
This is going to keep you busy in the fall, but if you do get some free time, don’t hesitate to visit TBARS to see what is growing in the fall. We have some very interesting research going on in winter crops (cereals, canola and peas). You may also wish to sit with a CCA/Consultant for fertilizer and crop planning for the season 2018! Earlier the better!!
Have an enjoyable fall!