Your fall agronomy checklist

Posted on
September 28, 2020
Buffy Uglow    buffy_uglow@rockriverlab.com

By: Scott Fleming, CCA, TSP, Nutrient Management Planning Specialist

As we turn the calendar, some of us are shocked at how far we’ve made it into 2020. Others are wondering why it can’t be 2021 already. Regardless, fall is here and a barrage of new to-dos emerge on our farm list. And while this growing season has been positive for many, there is still much effort that must be put forth to capitalize on the growing season and make the 2020 harvest successful. I usually recommend a few things in particular as growers approach this season:

Soil sampling preparation

Collect soil samples as soon as the crops come off - which seems earlier than usual this year. Opportunities to sample later in the season grow shorter as time goes on. That said, sample integrity will not be compromised if soil sampling is completed later in the season. But the ground does freeze! 

If you’re on a fall soil analysis routine, now is a good time to review a map of your land - regardless of if you’re planning to sample yourself or work with a professional team. Not sure where to start? Typically, the Farm Service Agency (FSA) or your crop insurance company can easily provide a map. A soil type map is even more valuable, providing the information needed to differentiate areas for pulling samples (more on that a little later). 

Planning to soil sample your own fields? Get your equipment together and order your submission items from your lab now. You’ll need a spade or probe, which can typically be borrowed from your local Extension team or ag retailer, along with a bucket, sample bags, and any necessary forms to accompany your sample submission to the lab. 

Soil samples should be taken across the various types of soil present within your growing acres to compare after the analysis is complete. As you take the samples, group them by soil type, previous management (those that had corn the previous year, etc.), or by future management plan (for instance spreading areas, manure application, etc.). 

Plan for manure distribution needs

Make a plan for your manure - emptying pits, etc. And not just timing, but know where to go and why. Avoid banking on the closest or easiest locations because they are convenient. Your crop advisor or nutrient management planner should be on speed dial to discuss any changes you foresee in this plan. 

Clean your equipment

With the increased presence of herbicide-resistant weeds, now more than ever it’s important to clean equipment between fields as much as possible. Or, consider harvesting the fields with the heaviest weed pressure last. Plus you’ll get the added benefit of clean equipment bragging rights. 

Look ahead to 2021

Some see fall as the last moments before a grueling winter - and thus a great time to soak up every bit of daylight, however, it’s also a good time to do all your spring prep. This may or may not be in the sunshine. 

Meet with your industry partners to lay out objectives for 2021. 

Prepay seed and other input costs as possible now. 

Book your fall fertilizer needs. 

University and seed company trials are wrapping up this time of year - be sure to check out their results and discuss with your advisors which varieties are best for those aforementioned objectives. 

Last but not least, look back on 2020 and how well you fulfilled your plan. No one could have predicted a pandemic, but the growing conditions in the Midwest certainly gave growers a fighting chance. Were you able to rise above and meet or exceed your objectives? If not, what can be done now to better hit your 2021 objectives? Planning ahead is an important ritual for any operation. And while agriculture is constantly dynamic, a plan that flexes with this business can still guide growers down the right path to success.

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