Much of the U.S. is experiencing abnormally dry conditions, and many areas of the Corn Belt and Plains states are in moderate or worse drought as of July 11. Strip-till helps retain soil moisture in dry years, which translates to healthier crops throughout the growing season and better yield prospects. Cover crops can also help manage moisture, but termination timing matters. Check out these articles from past instances of drought and the insight that followed.

Using Strip-Till During Drought

  • Devin Coleman-Derr, a scientist at University of California, Berkeley, studies how drought impacts the microbiome of sorghum. He presented his research at the virtual 2020 ASA-CSSA-SSSA Annual Meeting
  • Drought conditions change the way farmers should fall-apply nitrogen (N). There could be an opportunity for farmers to spread out or delay input costs, and they also want to avoid sending excess N downstream that the soil is currently holding.
  • Research published by the Soil Health Institute (SHI) provides fresh insights into the vital role that soil organic carbon levels can play in preventing drought, reducing flooding and improving the health and water retention of soils used to grow crops.
  • Experts at Purdue University remind strip-tillers that soil test potassium (K) and pH are affected by low moisture.
  • Autumn is the time to start selecting crop varieties for next year. If drought is a concern, select “workhorse” and not “racehorse” crop varieties.
  • Farmers suffering crop devastation from the ongoing drought can now apply for help from the USDA.
  • Iowa farmer and tillage consultant Kevin Kimberley explains how strip-tillers can cope successfully with the bone-dry, rock-hard fields.
  • For very low-yielding, rain-fed corn fields, expect residual nitrate levels to be high. This will primarily be from unused fertilizer N.
  • Droughts can severely limit crop growth, causing yearly losses of around $8 billion in the U.S. But it may be possible to minimize those losses if farmers can synchronize the growth of crops with periods of time when drought is less likely to occur.
  • Earthworms use water for many things – for respiration, to keep their bodies from drying out and to make the mucus that helps them slide through the soil. When soils get dry, earthworms go into estivation.

Cover Crops & Drought

Incorporating cover crops can improve soil moisture retention and reduce water loss. The dense vegetation of cover crops acts as a physical barrier, reducing evaporation and shading the soil, thereby reducing moisture loss from the surface. Read these articles from Cover Crop Strategies about using cover crops to fight the effects of drought: