Farmers lay fertilizer before ground becomes too hard
This morning’s single-digit temperatures have halted most soil preparation work for farmers as the frost and freezing ground make it too hard for fertilizers to penetrate into the soil.
“Until it got so cold, farmers were applying anhydrous and nitrogen,” said Jim Jensen, farm management staff with Iowa State University Extension Office in Mount Pleasant.
“Farmers also are out fixing any erosion problems, mending fences and possibly tilling the corn stalks, breaking them down into the soil — that is before it got so cold,” said Jensen.
He said the harvest is nearly finished, with perhaps a few scattered fields still to be done.
“ISU recommends for best practices, farmers wait until the soil at a 4-inch depth has temperatures below 50 degrees to apply nitrogen and other fertilizers,” said Jensen. “They do what they can outside until cold temperatures such as this slow down the outside work.”
Jensen said since farming is a cyclical business farmers also need to be figuring out tax preparations at this time of year.
“Farmers need to know tax-wise what they should be purchasing for next year,” he said. “It’s always a balance of trying to even out good income years with lower income years.”
While anhydrous applications depend on the weather, some other dry fertilizer applications such as phosphorus and potassium can be laid down on frozen ground, but it can be dicey.
“Once phosphorus and potassium are on the soil, they can be pretty stable,” said Jim Fawcett, ISU Extension field agronomist in Iowa City. “You don’t want to apply them on top of snow. And if you have sloping ground, applying on frozen ground can be wasteful.”
Fawcett said he’s still seeing cornfields being harvested.
“The soil is becoming frozen,” he said. “Farmers are slowing down outside work.”
The ground may or may not remain frozen continually for the winter months. Farmers can still apply fertilizers in the next few months in preparation for spring planting when the ground warms up.
Fairfield farmer Jerry Nelson said he and his son-in-law farm 2,500 acres and have completed most of the fall work already.
“The ground is frozen up too much right now to apply anything,” said Nelson. “Our applications of anhydrous ammonia are mostly done.
“We’re working some of the corn stalks into the ground. We do minimum tillage on stalks to prep the field for beans next year,” said Nelson.
Jensen said cornfields need nitrogen fertilizers, while soybeans produce their own nitrogen.