No till notes - “What a difference”

By Mark Watson, Panhandle No-Till Educator

The weather in our region is always full of surprises and this spring has certainly been a dramatic turnaround from the drought conditions we were experiencing. These extremes in temperature and moisture from year to year really present a challenge for our agricultural producers in this region. This spring has been the complete opposite of what we experienced last year.

I have visited with producers the last couple of days from around the Panhandle and the moisture received from this last storm have varied from only .35 of an inch in the southwest Panhandle to over 4 inches of rain in the northeastern Panhandle. On our farm we received 1.6 inches of rain over the weekend.

Another big change from this spring compared to last spring has been the temperature. Last year plants broke dormancy a month earlier than normal and the exceptionally warm temperatures in March, April, and May really moved the crops along at a rapid pace. Subsoil moisture was tapped into early in the spring and the hot summer months that followed quickly turned our area into one of the worst drought year’s we have seen.

Temperatures this spring have been cooler than normal which has really slowed crop development. This should help slow the depletion of subsoil moisture. Areas of the Panhandle that remain short on subsoil moisture at least have the cooler temperatures to help make the moisture they have received last longer until the rains return.

I try to roughly keep track of the moisture we receive each year so I can compare year to year how the dry land crops perform given the amount of moisture we receive. Keeping track of the moisture we receive also helps me gage how full our soil profile is so we can make better irrigation management decisions. We also probe the soil and use soil moisture monitoring equipment to help with irrigation management during the growing season.

We have been very fortunate with the snow and rain we have received during April and May this spring. Not all the snow stayed where it fell so not all the fields received the same amount of spring snowfall moisture. The winter wheat fields that were planted following the field peas probably fared the worst since there is no residue to catch blowing snow. The fields with corn stalks and tall winter wheat stubble did much better at catching the blowing snow.

According to my rough precipitation records we have received 4.7 inches of moisture during April and May this spring. This welcome moisture has gone a long way in replacing our subsoil moisture headed into the growing season.

Since last October we have received 6.81 inches of moisture. This moisture is important in the replenishing of subsoil moisture during the dormant part of the growing season. We should retain 85% of the moisture received during this time period provided we don’t disturb the soil and have good residues on the soil surface.

I think we have nearly a full soil profile on our farm now where we planted the dry land and irrigated corn into tall wheat stubble, and where we planted the field peas into the dry land corn stalks. Our winter wheat fields are probably still short of a full profile since we lost some of the snow moisture to the wind and the crop has used some moisture for early season growth.

On our farm I think we can store roughly six inches of moisture in a four foot soil profile. We have good silt loam soils for the top two feet which store approximately 2 inches of moisture per foot. The underlying subsoil is a white calcareous soil which stores roughly 1 inch per foot. We have received enough moisture since last October that we should have close to the six inches of soil moisture required to fill our soil profile.

It will be interesting to see how the rest of the growing season develops. Right now I feel pretty good about raising good crops this year thanks to this early season moisture. I hope the entire region receives enough moisture in the near future to give us all a good chance at a bountiful harvest.

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