In Williams County, farmers were unable to plant a cash crop on 84,632 acres, but leaving those acres fallow is not the best choice for soil health.
Stephanie Karhoff, agriculture and natural resources educator for the Williams County OSU Extension Office, said she was unsure how many of the prevented planting acres have been left bare, but said there appear to be some.
“Some people might still be planting wheat,” she said. “I know that got started and we had a decent rain that might have put a delay. So, there might be some (fields) that are planted but haven’t emerged yet.”
If left without a crop, a field could be negatively affected in a couple of ways.
One way, as many people may have seen driving through the country, is through weed pressure.
“Not having a crop competing with that weed and shadowing it out and closing that canopy, you’re seeing a lot more weeds, probably, than a typical year,” Karhoff said.
Without a crop, she continued, wind could easily blow away the topsoil.
According to a release from the OSU College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, it can take years to rebuild topsoil.
Topsoil is the soil richest in microscopic organisms that help with plant growth. No living roots in a field can also result in fungi dying off.
Karhoff said these microscopic organisms help plants draw up nutrients.
“If it doesn’t have a crop to survive on it’s just like if we don’t have food to sustain ourselves — it could starve,” she said.
The good news is one year left bare is unlikely to completely decline these populations and result in fallow syndrome — a drop in yield or health of a crop grown on a previously bare field.
“Soils don’t degrade overnight, typically,” Steve Culman, a soil fertility specialist with Ohio State University Extension, said in the release. “Degradation can happen over many years or decades, just like building healthy soil can take decades.”
Karhoff said the best way to prevent the death of these organisms would be to plant a cover crop in any field that couldn’t be planted otherwise.
However, if a farmer was unable to plant a cover crop for whatever reason, planting soybeans in the spring could help stave off the effects of leaving a field bare over the winter.
“(Fallow syndrome is) more often in corn than soybeans,” Karhoff said. “If your field is fallow now and you weren’t able to plant any cover crop and it’s to be bare all winter, planting soybean in the spring versus corn would be a better decision just looking at fallow syndrome alone.”
Soybeans, she added, have a symbiotic association with bacteria to help it fix nitrogen.
Culman said in the CFAES release that growers may need to add starter phosphorus fertilizer to fields left fallow this year, if a soil test is low in phosphorus.