by Dave de Vries
Driving down the roads of southern Ontario, we see many fields of soybeans and corn that are still standing. It's clear that the rain has certainly provided challenges for crops and harvest. The timing of harvest is critical to crop rotation, especially to the planting of winter cereal crops and cover crops. With harvest being so late this year, many farmers will have probably had to forego their opportunity to plant their winter cereals. The bad news is that, because of this, many more fields will be bare for the winter. So what are the implications of bare land on next season's crop?
For starters, there's a higher risk of diseases overwintering. This is because the soil's microbial community will not be as active with the live roots of what could have been a cover or cereal crop and, therefore, will not be busy digesting crop residues that provide a harbour in which disease pathogens will overwinter.
Microbes in the soil are your Fertilizer Factory. They feed on plant sugar exudates and digest into soluble form the soil's nutrient reserves, to be held until spring in the soil's water soluble nutrient bucket better known as ORGANIC MATTER. When microbial activity is low, so will be the level of available nutrients. So, fields that are left bare have less to offer a new spring crop.
Not only will your microbial community not be building new organic matter, but the bare ground will lose organic matter through oxidation. Lost organic matter means a loss in water holding capacity, increased risk of compaction, and lower nutrient holding capacity.
In areas where there are higher heat units, it may not be too late to plant. Choose annual rye or annual rye blended with oats for fast germination and rapid root growth. You may also be interested in one of our TrueCover™ cover crop seed blends.
To reduce the risk of heightened disease pressure, consider spraying a soil conditioner that provides a source of carbon to balance the C:N ratio and a source of sugar and other nutrients to provide a food source for the hungry microbes that can break down crop residues that could otherwise house disease pathogens.
Finally, start planning your spring planting considering that your soil nutrient levels and microbial community may be weakened. Include an inoculant like Nutri-Life Platform™ and a seed treatment such as Seed-Start™ and/or liquid starter such as Triple Ten™, or Blend 39, along with your seed to ensure a boost in microbial populations and a strong, fast start to your crop.