Fight the Urge to Fall Till and Save Gas, Soil

Illinois NRCS discourages farmers from fall tillage operations.

Does an early harvest have you thinking about fall tillage? Fight the urge to fall till, advises staff from the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Illinois.

"With such an early harvest and yields so good, you might be tempted to get back on that equipment and disk things up a bit," says NRCS State Conservation Agronomist Brett Roberts. "Unless you just like wasting gas or destroying good soil structure, I'd ask you to do something else this fall - do some early Christmas shopping, paint that basement or just read a book - but leave that residue alone and let the soil quality characteristics you've built over the last year sit tight. Resist that urge to turn that soil over," adds Roberts.

Leaving crop residue over the winter is a valuable contribution to the soil and protects the farm from erosion. Resisting the urge to till also saves money and offers a variety of other environmental benefits.

"It means fewer trips across the field, less wear and tear on equipment, better erosion control, improved soil quality, wildlife habitat establishment, and water quality enhancements, just to name a few," Roberts explains.

Farmers are also urged to delay nitrogen application until the soils are cooler. Applying nitrogen to warm soils creates a high potential for losses to occur and making nitrogen unavailable next year to the following corn crop. Part of the nitrogen lost can leach into the ground water or be drained from the field through tile lines.

"Nitrogen loss represents an economic loss to producers and is detrimental to water quality at the same time," notes Roberts. It is recommended that farmers delay fall nitrogen applications until soils remain at 60 degrees or cooler. Soils in Illinois generally do not cool sufficiently until mid October in Northern Illinois or the third week in October in Central Illinois. It is best to wait until soils reach 50 degrees unless nitrogen is stabilized. It must be emphasized that nitrogen should not be applied in the fall in Illinois in areas south of Route 16.

"Take advantage of this early harvest and the extra time it gives you but don't let it tempt you to do things that make take their toll on the environment or your bottom line," adds Roberts.

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