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BUILD SOIL QUALITY
Maintaining soil quality or health is one of the best ways for to prepare this uncertain future, say Hatfield and Wolkowski. To preserve yields, water management during grain-fill will be critical. Proactive steps include adopting agronomic practices such as no-till or strip till, keeping residue on soils and using cover crops to rebuild soil organic matter and improve soil health. Other steps include maintaining waterways and improving residue management.
Genetics, environment and management practices determine yields, says Hatfield, who advises producers to concentrate on the factors within your control.
“They have a genetic resource,” he says, “and an environmental factor that they can’t control. They have management factors that are 100% in their control. Preparation is more than just selecting a drought-resistant variety.”
Hatfield says his research shows that out of a 100 units of moisture on bare soil, 40 units will evaporate. In no-till soils with residue cover, 20 units will be lost. Additionally, corn roots are nearer the surface in soils with residue cover, which allows the plant to take advantage of light rains. In dry soils, the roots are nowhere near the surface and light rainfall won’t reach the corn roots.
“The real pay-off for soil health is water,” he adds. “Case in point: This year good soils with good water storage got fantastic yields.”