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Rutting season

There aren't any great options to fix your rutted fields. But here are the best - and the worst

Too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet. There’s pretty much never a Goldilocks moment for farming anywhere on the planet, and when those rare moments do emerge, they never last.

It makes for challenging times for growers who have to balance the immediate needs of the operation, such as spraying crop protection products, or harvest operations, against things like water-logged fields.

That was the situation Ontario farmers — and in particular, growers in midwestern Ontario — found themselves in during this past fall. They were fighting to get their soybeans off, the winter wheat planted and corn harvested.

In late October growers got an early preview as an early snowfall came, though the snow disappeared quickly — only to be replaced by three weeks of heavier-than-normal rainfall for southern Ontario.

The figures from Chatham, Ontario’s Weather INnovations confirm just how wet it was came in the middle of November. Between September 1 and November 11, the region bounded roughly by north Huron-north Perth-north Waterloo, as well as most of Wellington and Dufferin counties received more than 225 mm (nearly nine inches) of precipitation.

Other parts of the province saw between 373 mm and 480 mm of precipitation for the same period.

Overall, it means there’s a mess in fields throughout the region, and farmers are now coping with the impact of driving on saturated soils and tilling out the resulting ruts, something that’s causing a fair amount of concern.

For many agronomists and farm equipment dealers, the answer comes down to one word: plowing.

“Plowing is the only way, right now,” says Rick Allen of Podolinsky Equipment, near Petrolia, Ont. “And you’re going to see some guys attempting to plow (before the end of the year). And next spring, if they don’t, then they’ll be out tickling it with a little vertical tillage.”

Allen says that disc ripping or vertical tillage ceased in his area in late October, despite farmers still having corn in the field — as much as 25 per cent by the middle of November.

“The soil’s like rubber,” says Allen, citing soil condition as the primary reason most growers are steering clear of any tillage. But there are some who are determined to try. “I was out with a grower in his combine, and he told me that he had 250 acres to plow, and he’s going to plow them, and that’s it.”

Mervyn Erb also sees little option for growers but to plow the ground to alleviate the ruts.

From the Grainews website: Three reasons to consider tillage

“The heck of it is, if the guy’s going to rent some ground, he has no idea how it was beaten at harvest time,” says Erb, an independent certified crop adviser (CCA) from Brucefield, Ont., north of London. “He’ll rent it with snow on it, or he’ll rent it once it’s plowed. But he’ll have no idea how badly punched up it is or how tough it is.”

Erb echoes Allen’s assessment about the lack of opportunity for vertical till in the fall, saying it’s “just too gummy.” Yet he notes that into November there were still a lot of farmers on their fields moldboard plowing. Disagree with that as he might, he acknowledges that it may be the lesser of several evils.

“If they can’t combine, they’re out plowing, and I’ll tell you what, this clay land is coming up real leathery,” says Erb. “It’s wet, we’ve tramped it all, and there are buggies in the field, and when you plow it over, you can see the shiny marks from the traffic, and everybody’s hoping that the frost and the melt and the thaw and the rain will turn that back into mellow ground. I don’t know if it’ll quite happen like that, but I don’t see a lot of choice.”

Farmers in most of southern Ontario — except for the northern part of Oxford, perhaps — are limited in their ability to do much spring plowing. Erb says some have tried some form of vertical tillage in the spring, but the tougher clay soils make that a very difficult row to hoe.

“You turn all these root balls of corn over, and as soon as you pull that root ball out of the ground, you have a rock, and it’s full of wet, gummy soil and your planter just bounces all over the top of those things,” says Erb. “You’re better off doing nothing. Now, spring vertical till is fine if you did a fall vertical till. It’ll be softened up enough and opened enough in the spring, it’ll actually do a nice job of finishing it off. But only doing a spring vertical till is a wreck.”

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CG Production Editor

Ralph Pearce

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