Spring Seedbed Strategies to Maximize Profitability in Dry Conditions

Photo of Spring Planting in Residue
Photo credit: Dr. Al Cattanach

This winter has been the warmest on record for almost all measured weather parameters. Record high temperatures and very little snowfall for much of the eastern part of North Dakota has been the norm. Southeastern ND especially the southern Red River Valley has had one of the driest fall, winter and now springs in many, many years. In fact, large areas of North Dakota and northwest Minnesota are rated as D0 (abnormally dry) with the rest of the state considered D1 (moderate drought) and some areas even D2 (severe drought) drought status by the U.S. Drought Monitor as of March 5.

Diagram of the state of drought in North Dakota
North Dakota drought map. Yellow = D0 (Abnormally Dry) Source: U.S. Drought Monitor, March 5, 2024.

Why Moisture Matters: Reduced Emergence and Disease Risk

Due to the dry ground, managing spring seedbeds for maximum seed emergence will be a real challenge this year. This is especially true for shallow seeded crops like sugarbeet. Without a management plan, you can expect to see issues like:

Stale Seedbed Planting: A Potential for Success this Spring

Many farmers have been successful with stale seedbed planting in dry conditions. On the left, planted seedbeds. On the right, wheat residue ready for planting. Residue mitigates stand loss caused by wind. Credit: Dr. Cattanach

Windy conditions and very warm conditions this spring will dry out seedbeds quickly after tillage. Here's how to adjust your strategy:

Minimize tillage: When using conventional tillage tools, plant as close as possible behind the implement to retain moisture. Seedbeds will dry out to nearly the depth of tillage unless the soil is packed properly.

However, you may want to consider...

Stale seedbed planting: This method skips spring tillage, relying on planter attachments like residue managers to clear a narrow band for seed placement in moist soil. This is most suitable for fields with:

Residue manager mounted in front of planter. Adjustable based on field conditions. Credit: Dr. Cattanach

Benefits of Stale Seedbed Planting

Many farmers, including sugarbeet growers, have successfully used stale seedbed planting for years.

Stale Seedbed Drawbacks

Keep in mind, when you adopt stale seedbed planting, you need to be mindful of:

Planting sugarbeets without spring tillage. Credit: American Crystal Sugar Company

How FarmQA can help

It goes without saying that no matter how well you design your crop approach and advise your growers in the off season, Mother Nature can turn the best laid plan on its head. But, with FarmQA’s crop planning feature, you can make adjustments when conditions prove less than optimal come planting time.

With FarmQA, you can create custom crop plans that include each step in the plan and the products that should be applied.

Looking for ways to improve your crop planning efficiency and enhance grower service?

We’d like to help. Contact us to learn more about FarmQA.

Dr. Al Cattanach

Director of Agronomy

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