Farming covers a lot of ground in Minnesota.
In fact, the National Ag Statistics says in 2012 Minnesota farmers planted 8.75 million acres of corn and 7.05 million acres of soybeans, plus 4 million acres of small grains, hay (harvested), sugarbeets, dry edible beans, sunflowers, sweet corn, green peas and potatoes.
The state measures about 400 miles from south to north and 300 miles from west to east.
As the 12th largest state, Minnesota has a lot of variability in geography, climate and planting conditions. As the 2012 growing season ended, rainfall varied from 12 inches in the northwest to 32-36 inches in the northeast. Rainfall amounts of 28-32 inches fell in the metro area and in the extreme southeast. West central Minnesota received 16 inches, while much of southern and central Minnesota received 20-24 inches of rain through September 2012.
What is in store for the 2013 growing season? University of Minnesota Extension climatologist Mark Seeley says the outlooks of several climate organizations forecast “the jet stream bringing frequent weather disturbances through spring. This is likely to result in increased precipitation for Minnesota through May.”
Seeley does see some likely issues for portions of the state. He stated that “current low soil temperatures and deeper frost depths (20-30 inches) could prevent late winter and early spring precipitation from recharging soil moisture levels.”
He also pointed that above normal precipitation likely will not mean widespread drought alleviation and a normal crop year for all portions of the state.
Limited soil moisture reserves are a significant concern, pointed out Jodi DeJong-Hughes, University of Minnesota Extension tillage educator. Subsoil moisture across 88 percent of Minnesota was considered short or very short as of Oct. 31, 2012.
In the spring of 2012, farmers had to do some tillage work to break down “chunks” of soil, she said. Spring rain mellowed the soil and created some pretty good soil beds. As the rain shut off in the summer, harvest occurred early and farmers had time to till last fall.
“Anyone who left standing stalks, they are getting more of an even distribution of snow across the field,” she said. “If they did a lot of tillage, there are portions of the field that have snow drifts and other areas that are bare. Those areas are going to warm and dry up unevenly.”
DeJong-Hughes says that the freezing and thawing occurring in the soil profile this winter will help heal the soil, but moisture is needed.
Farmers can evaluate their fields this winter, take photos, and try to get a handle on whether or not the soil is subject to wind erosion.
“More of the soil is blowing, and because we have less structure with the tillage in the fall, the soil worked up really finely – it did not leave many of these fields with much topography going into the winter,” she said. “I’d like to see some snow to get the soil covered and keep it in place.
“If we get some pounding rains, this soil is ripe to seal up. There is very little residue out there.”
Ahead of planting in 2013, DeJong-Hughes recommends keeping tillage shallow – just enough to prepare the seedbed.
“There’s one thing that can help farmers with all of these issues, and that’s keeping some residue out there,” she said.
For producers who are thinking ahead to the 2013 harvest and fall field work season, DeJong-Hughes encourages them to find ways to keep more residue on the soil.
If conditions remain dry, she recommends, “just a light vertical tillage to a little mixing, and leave it alone.” If farmers experience bin-busting yields in 2013, then residue may need more management.
If farmers are considering purchasing tillage equipment, DeJong-Hughes recommends getting a multipurpose tool.
“I like pieces of equipment that have more than one purpose,” she said. “If you can find one that can be primary tillage, and could also be a spring pass – if you just do some adjustments. I like things like that, because one piece of equipment gives multiple options.
“If you can pull up the shanks and just use coulters, or if it’s easy to adjust, and has variable depth on it so they can change it out easily, that would be great.”
For corn planting, growers are adopting higher seeding rates, said Jeff Coulter, University of Minnesota Extension corn specialist.
Studies have shown that corn growers are seeing no or little yield penalty for too high of plant populations. High plant populations can also capture potential yield increases in favorable growing seasons, he said.
Coulter’s studies showed that higher seeding rates do not require more nitrogen – in fact, he’s seen no advantages to nitrogen rates over 155 pounds/acre.
He saw the highest gain yield and net return with 36,000 or 42,000 seeds per acre.
“High yields do not require high populations, but often have required at least 32,000 plants/acre in southern Minnesota,” Coulter said, adding that row width has little effect on corn yield or the optimal final stand in southern Minnesota. “In northwest Minnesota, optimum populations are higher, especially in narrow rows.”
He recommends farmers consider conducting on-farm test strips before making large changes to seeding rates.
For soybean planting, Seth Naeve, University of Minnesota Extension soybean specialist, encourages producers to rethink their seeding rates.
A three-year project sponsored by the United Soybean Board, found that farmers have a much broader window regarding optimal seeding rates.
In most cases, additional seed costs were offset by slightly higher yields, he said.
“Farmers should be shooting for a minimum of 150,000 seeds/acre, but can plant as high as 180,000 without any negative impact on returns,” Naeve said. “This is because we see a very small increase in yields over a broad range of seeding rates beyond 112,000. Therefore, farmers are getting enough grain back to pay for their seed.”