The calendar turned to Spring officially last week, and that usually brings new life and a bright green color to wheat fields. But an Ohio-based agronomist who also travels east-central Indiana says this crop coming into spring works like the worst one he's seen in decades.
His assessment may not apply everywhere, including southwest Indiana, but a interview trip through central and northeastern Illinois and central and northwestern Indiana late last week would seem to confirm that he's on target. Wheat fields observed during the trip, while albeit by windshield inspections, looked thin, with parts struggling to green up and survive.
While it's not clear why the crop may be coming out into spring in such dire straits in some locations, a wet fall with delayed planting in some areas may explain part of what's being observed now. Lots of wheat went in later than most farmers prefer last fall.
What bothers Winkle, he told farmers gathered at a meeting for customers of Bird Hybrids LLC, Tiffin, Ohio, at New Castle, Ind., last week was that he has applied nitrogen, and the crop is still not greening up as he would like. He's waiting for it to take off with its normal spring growth, and develop the normal,. Characteristic green growth associated with healthy, productive wheat crops in the spring.
Farmers in Lake County, Ind., told us that last year's crop was exceptional in some areas. However, it appears that trend may not carry over to this year.
Winkle advises assessing your crop carefully before deciding whether to keep it or not this spring.
Our roadtrip windshield survey also uncovered some of the worst rutting from combining on wet ground we've ever seen. While not universal, there are fields with rust so deep and so full of water in some fields that they looked like mini-lakes within the field.
Gary Steinhardt, Purdue University soils specialist, has said in recent years that creating soil compaction while combining may sometimes be a cost of doing business- the crop must come out. However, it's hard to imagine he had situations as severe as what we've seen in mind when he made those comments.
Based on his past work, how much such compaction will affect crops in '07 depends upon the crop planted into the field, and the weather pattern during the year. Soybeans tend to survive such severe conditions and still yield reasonably well much better than corn. Years with less drought stress and adequate rainfall, with good timing, also produce less yield loss in both crops. That's because of the tie between soil compaction and depth and amount of rooting.
One thing is for sure. Winter weather cycles didn't take care of the problem. Farmers with ruts in the field will need to address them before they can plant this spring. And agronomists advise that spring likely won't be the time to address fixing long-term soil compaction problems. That may have to wait for drier conditions, hopefully next fall.
The goal for spring may be leveling the field enough so that they can perform planting and/or tillage operations.