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Reduce plant stress at planting time

Due to the late harvest last fall, many fields did not receive fall tillage or fertilizers. Residue is light in color and reflects the sunlight, which slows soil warm-up. This spring, especially in northwest and west central Minnesota, there will be a lot of residue to contend with.

Planting soybeans may be the best option in fields with heavy residue because they are very adaptive to different residue levels and grow well in no-till situations. If you will not be rotating to soybeans and need to warm up the soil, a light tillage pass like disking or vertical tillage should be used to incorporate the residue and introduce air into the soil.

Last fall, University of Minnesota Extension started research on rut problems. This growing season, Extension will determine potential emergence, stand and yield reduction data, which will help producers quantify the yield that may be lost if there are ruts.

If you have ruts in the field from fall harvest, the first instinct is to aggressively fill them in. But soil structure is your soil's number one defense against soil compaction, and tillage destroys structure. To maintain the soil's structure, just fill in the ruts with light tillage. These areas will not yield as well as the non-rutted area, but there's not much you can do to change this.

To limit soil compaction, keep axle loads under 10 tons and properly maintain the air pressure in the tires. Not only does this help the soil, but it will help your tractor run more efficiently and with less slippage. Use the lightest tractor you own that can still get the job done. Check equipment: replace worn parts, sharpen blades, use residue managers, and adjust proper down pressure for each field's soil conditions.

Reducing plant stress starts with uniform and consistent seed depth and placement. Slow down when planting and keep your planter adjusted. The proper down pressure may need to be adjusted on a field-by-field basis. Well-placed fertilizers can be helpful to crop growth. Starter can help the plant get a fast start, and is more effective in cool soils and/or heavy residue.

When using fertilizer near the seed, use 28 percent nitrogen instead of ammonia to reduce the chance of burning the seed. Side dressing is another way to reduce the chance of burning the seed, and is an effective way to get nitrogen to the plant as it needs it, thus reducing the chance of leaching.

Control weeds early in the growing season. On average, four-inch weeds take up 20 pounds of nitrogen per acre, and 12-inch weeds use 60 pounds of nitrogen per acre.

Jodi DeJong-Hughes is a crops and soils educator with University of Minnesota Extension.