As I sit down to write this morning, it’s not raining. The fields are slowly starting to dry out, and it breaks my heart to see the devastation Mother Nature has left in many of our fields. In Illinois, June was the wettest on record with an average of 9.3 inches across the state, 5.3 inches above average, as reported by FarmWeek. May also was much above average in most of the corn belt. The NOAA gathers statewide precipitation ranks monthly. Check out your state’s precipitation levels in June.
Despite how much rain you’ve seen in your area, biologically alive soil can help protect against extreme weather stresses such as drought and moisture. For over 20 years we’ve talked about “weather-proofing” your soils with biological activity. Soil tilth, that crumbly coffee ground structure that we all desire, is only formed one way – microbially. Microbes exude substances that create the “balling up”, or the aggregation, of tiny soil particles into larger water stable soil aggregates. This tilth provides weather proofing. During wet periods, water stable soil aggregates resist crusting. Crusting reduces water infiltration causing more run-off and erosion. During dry periods, soil aggregates provide an insulation over the soil. This insulation-like layer reduces evaporation and enhances capillary action (the movement of sub-surface moisture upwards into the root zone).
Cover crops may also help save soil in flooded fields. For years, we’ve viewed cover crops as our ticket to healthy, biologically alive soil. So rather than focusing on the loss of “prevented planting” acres, cover crops could help prevent further soil degradation and increase soil productivity for next year. Having something green and growing the remainder of the year is a key concept for improving soil health, decreasing nitrate leaching to drainage waters, and improving water quality. Purdue University put out an excellent article along this topic. If this is something that interests you, check out our Ground Work on a useful cover crop chart. It provides a helpful guide when choosing which cover crops to plant.
Hopefully we’re nearing the end of this wet streak…