Filling in the trenches before spring seeding

Producers are trying to find time to deal with the ruts they left while scrambling to get crop in last fall

Seeding season is underway, but many producers are facing fields like this one near Somerset.

Manitoba’s grain farmers are still racking up the butcher’s bill from last year’s “harvest from hell.”

Some are still trying to get last year’s harvest off the field, some have been forced to burn that unharvested crop thanks to fields too wet or crops too far gone to be worth combining. Some are trying to fit in fertility, after missing their fall pass.

For many though, the issue is, literally, more jarring. Before they can travel across the field, they have to deal with the ruts.

Why it matters: Ruts are yet another product of a challenging fall that producers are still dealing with before they can get this year’s crop in the ground.

Many producers left trenches throughout many of their fields last fall while rushing to get crop in, despite wet weather.

Simon Ellis of Wawanesa says his farm has yet to look at the most rutted fields from last year, although the late, cold spring has made managing those ruts a problem.

“There’s still water laying in them and stuff like that,” he said. “I went out with a small 10-foot deep tiller just to see what would happen and I got off the field fairly quickly, because the tractor starting sinking.”

Yield impact

There’s not a lot of data on how those ruts might impact yield, Marla Riekman, soil specialist with the province, said during a Crop Talk webinar in the second week of May.

Some projects out of the U.S. looking at rutted areas in corn production found up to 17 per cent yield loss within the ruts themselves, she noted.

Normally a proponent of minimalizing soil disturbance, when possible, Riekman admitted that producers will have to use tillage to smooth over those ruts. Growers will, however, risk compacting their soil if they rush out to the field while soil is still too wet, she warned.

“The rule of thumb is that if it’s too wet to plant, then it’s too wet to till,” she said, “but the problem is that we’re trying to get those ruts dealt with in such a timely manner so that we can get on to plant.”

She urged producers to till as shallowly as possible, and to only till the rutted areas of the field. Producers should also attempt to direct seed when possible.

Producers can also avoid compounding the problem by driving over the path of the ruts, and therefore avoiding a new set of compacted tire tracks, she noted.

“It’s going to take awhile for the soils that we have to dry down, because the frost is still below, and until that frost is gone, the soils can’t drain properly,” Riekman said.

Producers got little help from the weather through the first part of May. Overnight lows remained well below freezing, while the second weekend of May forecasted a late snowfall for parts of the province.

Riekman hopes that there might be a silver lining to be found — rut issues this year could help yield more local data. She is calling for producers who have ruts to contact her, so that she might run her own tests on how ruts impact yield the following growing season.

“(I) would love to do a little bit of work looking at what that yield impact could be this year,” she said.

About the author


Alexis Stockford

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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