Minnesota Farmer

Done, but not

Harvest is over, but farm work is not.  Many seem to feel that when a farmer finishes his harvest, the year is over for him, in a way it is, but it is not.  When we finish harvest, we start getting ready for the next year.  This is especially true here in Minnesota where the cold sets in and stops all cropping activity.  I can usually plan on the ground freezing solid the first week in December, the most common date, December 5th.  We will not get enough warm weather to melt snow and start field work until April.  If we can get into the field by April 20, we are happy, this year rains kept us out of the field until May 1.  It is possible for us to get some warm weather that may start field work early, but that is rare.  We had one year where some farmers were able to plant oats and wheat in January, but that is the exception.  So, contrary to popular myth we do not have 6 months of winter here in Minnesota, with 6 months of tough sledding, we have only 4 months of winter, and March can, at times, be very nice.

So what are we doing to prepare for the next crop?  For most farmers this includes some type of tillage to help bury the residue of the last crop.  This not only makes it easier for the next crop to grow, it buries the plant material so it will not blow away over the winter, and allows plant material to start to break down so it will provide nutrients for the next crop.  This tillage can include chopping, disking and moldboard plowing in the extreme of one end, to just letting it lie on the other.  We are somewhere in between, where corn was planted in the spring we use a heavy disk to turn over the top few inches of soil, yet leave much of the plant material near or on the surface.  In soybean stubble we use a strip till rig to place fertilizer for the next crop and leave most of the ground undisturbed.

Fertilizing for the next crop is a big part of our planning for the next year.  Phosphorus and potassium, plus a few micro nutrients, can be expected to stay put in the soil, so we will place most of those nutrients in the soil now.  They tie to plant and soil particles and don’t move until a plant uses them.  Nitrogen can be a bit of a different story.

I like to place a little nitrogen down in the fall, and the rest in two extra doses in the growing season.  Nitrogen is only somewhat stable in the soil.  Cold weather helps to keep it from going off into the air or water.  When you have a very wet spring like this last one, much of your nitrogen can leach out into the ground water.  Most years this is not a problem, so many farmers take the chance and put down their nitrogen in the fall when it is less expensive.  For me, I have found that I can use less nitrogen and get a better yield by applying it later, even though it will cost me more.  This year that approach payed off, but that is not always the case.

Livestock farmers have extra chores to take care of after harvest.  These chores include cleaning barns and spreading the manure and used bedding, and harvesting some of the left over plant materials for winter bedding.  Manure tends to break down slowly, and will act like a slow release fertilizer.  It is rarely possible to spread livestock waste on standing crops, thus the extra spring and fall rush for livestock owners.

We also have some cleaning to do of our machinery before storage, and a few repairs that could not be, or were not, done during the harvest.  Cleaning out the dust and litter from a machine helps to keep out mice who want to have a warm winter bed (and who chew on wires and hoses), and also helps you to identify possible repairs before they get worse.  Having harvest end early really assists in the cleaning and proper storage of our machinery.

So today I’ll have an easy Sunday.  I’ll do a little yard and garden work, then I start getting ready for the harvest of 2012.  It is only 11 months until the next harvest after all.



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