Managing a preventive plant field

Special Contributor Richard Halopka
Clark County UW-Extension Agent
Heavy spring rains delayed planting across the state. Too much moisture causes soil and disease challenges.

CLARK COUNTY - The 2017 growing season has been wearing on many farmers and some farmers have waved the white flag and taken preventive plant, what should they do with the field? 

First if it is preventative plant follow the guidelines in your insurance policy. So general recommendations would be to control the weeds and plant a cover crop of some type to reduce rainfall impact, reduce potential soil erosion, and provide live roots in your soil. If you don’t have insurance, some of these practices may be beneficial. 

What do you need on the farm? Review your goals for your 2018 crop. If you have livestock do you need forages? Control the weeds and then seeding a perennial forage crop in August may be an option. Generally you will not harvest the crop this year and early fall seeded forages generally don’t have as great of weed pressure. In addition, you will have forage available next year.

If you don’t need forage and are in the grain business there are different options. The first recommendation is to control the weeds. Then what crop would you plant next year? If it is corn for example, you may want to plant a legume to add nitrogen to the soil for next year’s corn crop and reduce some of your 2018 input cost. A mixture of peas and oats is a good option, which would provide a fibrous root crop with a legume, with the added benefit that both crops will die overwinter. 

There are many other mixes available at your suppliers so review the mixes and review pros and cons of each mix. Some root crops will help relieve some compaction in the field and die overwinter. If you are in the grain business, you could plant a winter small grain crop. You could use the crop for forage early next year, allow it to grow and produce grain, or you could kill the crop in spring and plant another crop. 

There are other grass options. Annual ryegrass will provide a good cover and will die overwinter; unless there is adequate snow cover during the winter months, then annual ryegrass will become perennial ryegrass. You have many options. 

To summarize, what should you do? 

  1. Develop a plan for this year and 2018. Follow your insurance policy guidelines if it is a preventive plant field.
  2. Control the weeds.
  3. Reduce tillage if possible. Many counties have no-till drills to rent, thus reducing tillage and cost of planting a cover crop.
  4. A cover will provide live roots in the ground and prevent soil erosion.
  5. Your cover crop may be a crop in 2018, either forage or grain.
  6. Remember #2, doing nothing should not be an option as it allows for a greater weed seed bank in the future.  

If you have questions regarding what to do with your unplanted fields please call the extension office at 715-743-5121 or email richard.halopka for a conversation on some of your options.