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Harvest Report: Break Up Hard Pan for Drier Fields

A simple exercise can help you identify hard pan in your fields.

Wet fields hindering harvest across large swaths of the Northern Plains have many farmers searching for a way to dry their fields. Although there’s no quick fix, one potential solution is to improve moisture management throughout the growing season by helping it move deeper in the soil profile.

Today’s guest blogger is John Kahle, Case IH Crop Production Product Specialist. John covers eastern Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, western Minnesota and northwest Iowa. Here is his harvest report from the field:

Much of this area is experiencing higher-than-average moisture. This has provided a good reminder that our spring seedbed preparation needs to start at harvest. We also need to consider fall tillage practices that can help fields disperse excess moisture throughout the growing season. I refer to this as hard pan management.

As you can see in the photo, the bottom of the hard pan is 9 inches deep, with the top of the hard pan approximately 6 to 7 inches deep, resulting in a 2- to 3-inch-thick hard pan. To check the hard pan in your fields, use a spade to dig a hole about 16 inches deep. Take a pocket knife and stick it into the side wall and pull the knife upward until you feel a resistance change. It will be abrupt in most cases. When I dig these holes in fields across my territory, I generally find the bottom of the hard pan from 8 to 10 inches deep. This leaves about 6 inches of working soil above the hard pan.

Hard pan management pays off in wet and dry years. In wet conditions, we need to break up the hard pan so water isn’t suspended in that top 6 inches of working soil. We want the excess moisture to be able to move vertically, rather than horizontally. In addition to clearing the way for deeper movement into the soil profile, this also allows the excessive moisture to find tile lines quicker.

Dry year benefits

Fall hard pan management is just as crucial when conditions turn dry. During dry years, we want the moisture that is received to seep downward, rather than stay suspended in the 6 inches of working soil where it can be more readily evaporated. Managing hard pan also lets applied nutrients go vertical, protecting your fertilizer investment. As plants grow, the maturing root structure can continue to grow downward, seeking the moisture and nutrients it needs. The result: a plant with a strong root structure.

When you neglect hard pan management in a dry year, the roots of the plant working to find moisture eventually hit the hard pan and flat line, or die, unless a rainfall comes before it’s too late.

Busting the hard pan

Our Ecolo-Tiger® 875 disk ripper fractures the hard pan across the entire implement, leaving the soil with an even density, ready to accept moisture and nutrients, and support strong root development. Here are some of the features that help make the Ecolo-Tiger 875 the ideal fall-tillage tool:

  • Handles heavy residue with 24-inch disk blades to cut and properly mix residue in the top 4 inches of soil
  • Parabolic shanks — adjusted to run 1 inch below the bottom of the hard pan — lift, twist and roll the hard pan
  • A 24-inch shank spacing provides even clod sizing by preventing large slabs from moving up to the surface
  • The Case IH disk level’r™ fills the void left by the shank and evenly distributes soil and residue across the soil surface

The Case IH TigerPaw Crumbler® rolling reel provides the perfect finish. Forged double-edge steel bars help the TigerPaw break up clods and root balls and size to 6 inches in diameter or less. Finally, the TigerPaw Crumbler tucks residue into the soil, providing good soil-to-residue contact for improved residue deterioration. Other finishing harrow options include a 30-inch-long coil tine harrow or a spike tooth harrow.

With the hard pan broken up and crop residue properly sized and mixed, you can work with your Case IH dealer over the winter to select the best tillage options to help you create a high-efficiency seedbed ahead of planting. Meanwhile, stay patient while you wait for fields to dry, and above all, stay safe when harvest resumes.

LEARN MORE HERE
Brochure: Ecolo-Tiger 875 disk ripper

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