If you’re worried about dry weather this year where you farm, it’s important to look back at what’s worked in the past and what subtle tweaks to your program could lead to more success.
At some point, you do need at least some moisture, but here are some proven ideas to help your crops hang on longer until that next rain comes.
The #1 thing I’d say is that if your crop is short of even one nutrient, it becomes a water waster. Think about it. How does your crop take in nutrition? It brings it in with water. If your crop is hungry, it drinks in water. If your crop is still short in one nutrient, it keeps drinking. By getting your soil in balance so all the nutrients are available each and every day through the season, you will raise a crop on less water per bushel. This is why getting complete soil tests really pays, and it pays even better for farm operations where it doesn’t rain often and the soils aren’t the greatest.
Banding nutrients is a great way to feed your crop in a drought. I’ll use corn and soybeans as examples. A corn plant’s root mass fits in a five-gallon bucket, and a soybean plant’s roots fit in a pop can. If you put the nutrients those plants need within the space of that bucket or pop can, your crop has a better chance to access a majority of them. Timing and placement are important in dry weather. The earlier the application, the better so you have more time to catch water to break down dry granules or to move nutrients into soil solution. Also, putting the nutrients a little deeper in the soil gets them down to where you won’t dry out quite as quickly as in a surface application or even in a 2 X 2.
Get your crop established early while it’s cooler and beat the heat that’s sure to come. While this doesn’t always pay, it’s more likely to be an advantage if the summer turns hot and dry.
WEED AND INSECT CONTROL
If you don’t have enough moisture for your crop, you certainly can’t waste any on weeds or bugs.
Use a pre-emerge herbicide EARLY so there’s more time to get some rain on it. Also, light incorporation of residual herbicides gets them to work faster and with less rain.
Do a great job controlling insects and treat them before you reach common insect thresholds. When it’s dry, it doesn’t take as much insect feeding to cause a serious loss.
Use planting-time insecticide in corn to stop rootworms and many secondary insects from reducing your root volume and hurting your plants.
When it comes to post-emerge herbicide applications, here are three tips that will help you get better results:
1. SPRAY IN THE MORNING
Plant leaf stomatas are open in the morning, and in a drought you’ll get better weed control by making applications in the morning than at any other time during the day.
2. USE THE PROPER ADJUVANTS AND BE WILLING TO ADJUST
You may need to up your game by adding a crop oil or methylated seed oil to actually penetrate the leaves on your target weeds, as they will harden off to prevent moisture loss in a drought.
3. TIMING IS CRITICAL
If you can control weeds before they get any size to them, that means less moisture and nutrients they’ve taken away from your crop.
There were several natural products that really stood out in dry environments in 2022. There were also some that didn’t work the best.
Heat Shield is a product we’ve used for a number of years now, and it’s also a component in Hefty Complete Seed Treatment. It contains fungal endophytes that live symbiotically inside the plant – in order for Heat Shield’s bugs to survive, the plant must live. We saw significant improvements in plant health compared to untreated checks in every crop we used Heat Shield on this year, both foliar and as a seed treatment.
MycoApply Endoprime was our mycorrhizal fungi product of choice this year, and it performed well in dry conditions by helping plant roots find more phosphorus and other nutrients, resulting in more efficient use of available water.
MegaGro was also a big winner in 2022 once again. It is simply the most consistent natural product we’ve seen. The hormones it contains direct the plant to expand root growth, allowing the plant to do more with less (water and nutrients).
On our farm, the fields that were well-drained with tile did better for us in 2012’s drought, and have consistently performed better during the last couple years of drought, as well. We only tile at about three feet deep (rather than four to six feet deep) to keep the water table relatively shallow while still providing enough space to give our plants the chance to root more deeply early in the season.
While we farm in a dry area, it seems the water table remains still high nearly every spring, and areas that aren’t tiled can see the soil pores fill with excess water. When that happens, roots are not able to run deep early in the spring, and they often die. Deep roots are generally a big help in a dry year, so use sub-surface perforated tile where you can, even if it is just in a few problem areas of your fields.