Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on September 11, 2000. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Planning Can Limit Some Drought Risk
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- It's too late to do anything for this year's crops, but farmers hurt by two years of drought should begin to act now to reduce their susceptibility to future drought.
Short of installing irrigation systems, there are options that can give crops a little relief during blistering, dry summers. These include early planting, the use of early maturing varieties and a departure from clean tillage systems.
Jim Thomas, agricultural engineer with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said leaving residue on crop land helps preserve moisture in the soil, especially early in the growing season. Subsoiling and deep tillage also help.
"Deep tillage helps build better subsoil moisture supplies than that soil normally would have," Thomas said. "A good subsoiling is almost like an irrigation. It supplies subsoil moisture for crops another week or two into a drought, where that same soil without the deep tillage would run out of water."
Another way to hold moisture in the soil is to leave residue, but limit growing vegetation.
"Don't let the weeds get too big in the spring," Thomas said. "Burn these down early with herbicides, as this gives the crop a big advantage by reducing to a minimum the competition for moisture. Don't let the weeds take moisture away from your crop."
Residue on the soil surface also helps get more water in the ground.
"Without cover, rainfall tends to slick off cleared farmland, but rainfall moves across the land a little slower with miniature dams made of sticks and leaves," Thomas said.
Alan Blaine, Extension agronomist, said one of the best things farmers can do now is look back at this dry growing season to see what varieties performed well.
"Some varieties showed they could really take the heat, while others fell on their face," Blaine said. "Make some hard decisions for next year on variety selections."
Blaine also recommended doing any field preparation in the fall, making it possible for farmers to plant some crops as soon as they can get in the fields in the spring.
"Avoid spring tillage if possible, because when that early window opens, you need to plant, not plow," Blaine said. "Take advantage of the dry weather this fall and till now."
Blaine said soybean growers have planted early and used early maturing varieties to try to minimize the effects of drought for several years. Because of this, some farmers will harvest at levels better than what might be expected under current conditions.
"That tells me we've got to keep on doing what we've been doing. We're going to get that late July rain one day and hit a home run on yields," Blaine said.
While they are planting earlier than ever before, Blaine said Mississippi soybean farmers need to keep moving up their planting dates. This year's soybean crop was planted between April 25 and May 10, typically considered early, but it actually was late considering the conditions experienced this year.
"I'd rather deal with Mother Nature's curve ball early than late," Blaine said.