Why is soil condition so important?

Soils in Eastern Illinois are high in clay content.  That is not a bad thing; it just means that we should take great precautions to work the soil when the moisture is right (in other words, dry).  If we work the soils in conditions that are too wet, it ends up much like the playdoh of our childhood that gets left out of the container, hard and cracked.

Plants ideally need 50% organic matter from the soil, with 25% air and 25% water in the pores in the soil.  We can and do argue that we can improve the soil organic matter over time.  That in turn will help with the other two components air and water.  If the soil is high in clay and we plant into those wet conditions, we risk smearing the clays together (remember the playdoh analogy).  That act will decrease the pores and the access to water and air.  This mistake will limit the ability for small plant roots to penetrate the soil to deprive water, air and nutrients and in extreme cases cause early plant death.  In more common cases the plant will be stunted and much less productive.  Given the price of corn for this fall is $7.00 per bushel, we want to make sure each plant has maximum productivity!

This spring has been an extreme challenge.  As I write this on April 25th, virtually no crops have been planted.  Even oats that can be planted in less than perfect conditions have not been planted because it has been too wet to drive across the soil.  It is getting late to plant oats, but it is certainly not too late to plant traditional corn or soybeans.  It is “prime” time right now, but the area having received over an inch of rain in the last 7 days is nowhere near fit to plant crops.  With another inch plus forecasted for the next 7 days it appears that we will not plant a single crop until after May 10.

In the world of Agriculture, we often discuss the thought of getting 40 chances to do it right; 40 opportunities/years to do the very best that we can.  With uncertainty in Eastern Europe and uncertainties here in the United States, we must take that view and wait until the soil condition is right.   We must exercise patience and do our part to do it right.