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Why are the farmers tilling so early?
March 4, 2011 8:31 AM   Subscribe

Why, in the middle of winter (now, in Central MI), would a farmer plow under only a strip of land in the middle of his (previously harvested but un-tilled) field?

I live in rural mid-Michigan. On my drive home, I've noticed multiple otherwise snow-covered fields that feature a fairly wide section (usually in the middle of the field) of recently (as in, within the last week) tilled soil. Most of these fields appear to have had corn planted in them last year. I can't think of any plausible explanation for tilling only the middle strip of a field so early in the season (the ground is still frozen). Any farmers or Ag folks who can enlighten me?
posted by Chrischris to Society & Culture (17 answers total)
 
If the ground is still frozen maybe it's to avoid erosion from wind or water? Old cultural habit (read: superstition, myth, etc.)?
posted by ZaneJ. at 8:33 AM on March 4, 2011


Maybe he is redoing drain tile in a problem area? This is the best time of year to do that work which farmers obviously don't want to do in the growing season.
posted by JJ86 at 8:35 AM on March 4, 2011


Plowing will only make the ground more susceptible to erosion. I'm also guessing it's to do with a field drainage system. Next time you stop by your local feed store for bird seed or whatever, I bet someone would be happy to talk to you about it.
posted by sk932 at 8:43 AM on March 4, 2011


Are you sure this is tilled soil and not something being spread? It's common practice to spread manure before the spring thaw. Once the ground thaws, you can't get a tractor out in the field until the ground dries up a little, so they spread it while the ground is frozen and can support the tractor.
posted by cosmicbandito at 8:47 AM on March 4, 2011


perhaps they are working nitrogen into the soil, starting from the middle.
posted by peachfuzz at 8:53 AM on March 4, 2011


Might be drainage but this may also be the path the farmer is using to feed the cows. I've seen a number of single tilled-looking strips out here and they're sometimes in use with a hay wagon. In upstate New York we've had an odder/tougher winter with a good amount of residual snow lately that's been melting and re-freezing into ice sheets. The farmers are having problems navigating the fields even with plowed out bits so they might have tilled a section for better traction (likely on a day recently when the ground was briefly unfrozen-ish).

Also like cosmicbandito said -- it might not be tilled (would be difficult to think of a machine strong enough to till up the frozen ground) but something spread over a field lane.
posted by countrymod at 8:53 AM on March 4, 2011


Don't know if farmers do this but if a construction site is working in frozen ground then sometimes it will be disked (plowed) to turn it over, darken it and help it thaw faster.
posted by bartonlong at 8:54 AM on March 4, 2011


What bartonlong says makes sense. They might be plowing over the tile, to hasten thawing there so that when everything else starts to melt, the field dries out sooner.
posted by bricoleur at 9:02 AM on March 4, 2011


A very good to call or email for an informed answer would be your Cooperative Extension.
posted by Miko at 9:36 AM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Tilling or plowing frozen ground would be really, seriously bad for your soil; you'd just shatter all the stable aggregates and turn the soil to dust, which would speed erosion, increase runoff, decrease water retention, and drastically decrease the bporosity of the topsoil.

Assuming this farmer isn't out to ruin his soil, my bet is on recent drainage tile work.
posted by dialetheia at 9:41 AM on March 4, 2011


Maybe he was demoing a new piece of farm equipment? Or working on a drainage or sprinkler system.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:12 AM on March 4, 2011


Most probably tile, but if there's any infrastructure due to be built nearby or on it, it could be an archaeological test plough.
posted by scruss at 10:29 AM on March 4, 2011


There's some strips in fields by us as well (east of you, but still mid MI), and they're access routes for power line "planting".

If they're actually plowed strips, the ground isn't frozen. However, my bet is some sort of infrastructure work -- drainage tiles, water lines, conduit, gas line, laying power lines, etc.

They may be test runs to see if the fields can be plowed yet with some new equipment-- the frost is rising, so I wouldn't be surprised if the ground under the snow is thawing out enough to be tilled a little.
posted by jlkr at 11:41 AM on March 4, 2011


Multiple farms not along a high tension wire route: as cosmicbandito said, manure spreading.
posted by Muted Flugelhorn at 12:45 PM on March 4, 2011


It's common practice to spread manure before the spring thaw.

It's also common that laws are being written to forbid this practice. As it turns out manure spread during winter can become runoff during the spring thaw - leaching all that yummy goodness into the local waterways.
posted by alfanut at 1:57 PM on March 4, 2011


Part of a large scale Google Maps artwork?
posted by yohko at 1:58 AM on March 7, 2011


Well, after wandering out into the adjoining field yesterday, I can confirm that they are indeed spreading manure in these parts. Thanks, everyone, for the interesting suggestions!
posted by Chrischris at 7:07 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


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