Ruts! Get out and take a good look at many of the farm fields in the area and you will notice they are cut up with ruts. These came from the combines and other equipment that were in the fields harvesting corn and soybeans during the very wet 2011 fall months. It was a difficult harvest. Now, planting spring crops will have more problems.
While local farmers didn't like cutting up their fields with the equipment, they didn't have any other choice. Usually there would be dry times in the fall when crops could be harvested without hurting the fields. But last fall was an exception. There just wasn't what could be called a time when fields got really dry. It was unusual. Their livelihood was standing in the fields and had to be harvested.
Some years, when it is too wet in the fall, farmers would wait for the ground to freeze, then get out with the combine. That didn't work last winter. With the mild winter, the ground never froze hard enough to hold up the equipment.
Now these rough fields have to be smoothed out so equipment won't have to cross them, making it tough to farm. Many of our local farmers use a conservation practice called "minimum till" or "no till." This involves doing as little tillage as possible to provide a seed bed for the crop.
No till or minimum till leaves organic material on top of the ground to protect the soil and uses fewer trips over the field to get the crops planted. It is a conservation, fuel-saving practice that benefits the soil, is environmentally friendly, and cost-saving for farmers.
Area farmers say there will need to be extra trips across these rough fields this year to get rid of the ruts. Some may use a disc and others a heavy duty field cultivator that will go deep enough to do the job.
Regardless of what they use, it will mean extra time, trips and fuel to get spring crops in those rough, cut-up fields. That means extra costs.
Just how much will it cost farmers to smooth out ruts varies? An Iowa State University Extension farm rate survey said it would cost $15 an acre to do the job. Other university soil management specialists suggest it could cost considerably more, some as much as $50 an acre.
Regardless of what cost a local farmer has for his fields, and there will be some, it will take away from profits next fall. On top of that, extra trips over the fields will have to be done right at the time crops should be going in the ground. Planting could be delayed.
During the dry time last week, a few early season crops were planted. While a lot of oats are not planted anymore, some were put in the ground. One farmer said he planted a field of barley, which is not grown a lot in the area. He wanted the straw for bedding and would probably feed the grain. These are crops that can be planted early.
Once again, every year is different. This one is no exception. Area farmers are hoping that this year will give them weather that will allow decent planting and harvesting seasons. After last year, they need a break with some good weather for this crop season.
And they will be happy when they get the ruts smoothed out of their fields!
Parker is retired from Ohio State University and an independent agricultural writer.