An extremely dry October and a harvest progressing ahead of the five-year average have allowed farmers the luxury of planning ahead for spring.
In the past two years late harvests and wet fields have kept farmers from completing traditional fall field work, such as tillage and nitrogen application, that is done in preparation for the coming spring.
"The last two years there was no fall tillage. Harvest was late and it was mostly wet," Dan Davidson, an agronomist with DTN/The Progressive Farmer, said. "Fall tillage didn't get done and people had to scramble."
A USDA report released Monday said soybeans in Minnesota are 99 percent harvested, compared to an 83 percent five-year average, and corn is 77 percent harvested, well ahead of the 41 percent five-year average.
"Most of the area is probably 10 days to two weeks ahead of normal as far as wrapping up harvest," Kent Thiesse, a farm management analyst and former Extension educator, said.
Following completion of the harvest farmers return to fields to shred corn stocks and turn the soil over using a chisel plow or disc ripper. Performing fall tillage churns cornstalk residue into the soil, aiding in decomposition that enriches the soil.
"This residue sticks around and you have to get it cut up and buried so it can decompose," Davidson said. "Anything you can do to blacken the soil in the fall means it will be black in the spring."
Heavy rains over the summer and into the fall caused top soil in fields to be compacted; dry weather has only worsened the problem, but according to Thiesse, light rains over the weekend and into this week will be beneficial to tillage operations and will help with nitrogen applications.
"In some cases a little bit of rain is probably good. Most of southern Minnesota hasn't had any rains since the big rains of the 22nd and 23rd," he said. "You need a little bit of moisture in the soil for that nitrogen to latch onto."
The cooler weather moving into the are will be beneficial to farmers, Thiesse said. Nitrogen applications to fields usually do not occur until ground temperatures reach 50 degrees or lower. As temperatures cool and tillage is completed, applying fertilizer is the next step.
"Once it gets to around 50 degrees or lower we start to see the nitrogen go on," Thiesse said. "It's worked quite well for producers this year."
Farmers traditionally have until late November, when the ground freezes, to complete field preparations for the following year.
"If these guys get all the fall work done this year they'll be in good shape for next year," Davidson said. "Even if it's a late wet spring, they'll be in a good position."