We have a considerable amount of acreage that will not be planted with the intended crop this season. Many of these areas are low, wet pockets in fields that are being farmed around. In some cases, entire fields will go unplanted. I talked to a few farmers and consultants this week about what they think might be good use for that land.
The number one suggestion was not to ignore the property! What is currently a wet hole will most likely dry up this summer, and weeds will begin to grow. Those weeds will provide a foothold for invasive species to creep into your field. At the least, clip those spots that are not completely surrounded by crops. If troublesome weeds like quackgrass, johnsongrass, mare’s tail, Palmer amaranth or water hemp appear, use this fallow time to get the weeds under control.
Here’s another idea for those considering organic production. According to the USDA organic standards, the field must be chemical free for three years before being certified organic. Designating this land as your organic land would give you a one year head start at meeting the standard. Even if you want to grow organic without getting the land certified organic, this would give you a one year jump. Not all crops like to grow in wet areas, so be sure this is where you want to grow the organic crops you plan to grow.
Do you or any of your neighbors need forages for livestock? Perhaps some grasses or legumes could be sown in the wet spot to help lessen a shortage of forages on the farm. Since these spots are known to be wet, some species like alfalfa would need to be ruled out due to their preference for well drained soils. Purdue has a forage seeding guide posted at https://www.agry.purdue.edu/ext/forages/publications/ay253.html to help you chose forage species.
Do you find that this area drowns out nearly every year or is commonly too wet to plant? Maybe the wet spot could be converted from farmland to a pond, for the enjoyment of fishing and wildlife. Or perhaps this is a good time to plan for adding additional tile to drain the area to make the land more productive. If you are unable to harvest a crop in more than 6 of 10 years, you might be better off saving your time and the money spent on seed, fertilizer, fuel and chemicals to create a pond you can enjoy.
There is one important caveat if you carry crop insurance and expect to receive a crop insurance payment for prevented planting. You may not be allowed to harvest or graze the land if you collect a payment, dependent upon the harvest date. You should speak to your insurance representative to see how the policy options apply to you.
Jeff Burbrink is Extension Educator, Agriculture/Natural Resources, Elkhart County Purdue Extension Service. He can be reached at 574-533-0554 or email@example.com.