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A New Method for Preventing Snow Mold In Winter Wheat (Part 2)

When faced with a reluctant spring thaw, dryland wheat growers know they have only two weeks to remove the snow from their fields, or large sections of their crop will die off from snow mold.  Melting the snow artificially can be an expensive process, but one southern Idaho wheat grower has found a unique solution that could save both money and the environment  (see part 1).  He covers the snow with displaced topsoil, which speeds up the warming process and is less expensive than using traditional fly ash.  This week, find out which techniques Campbell uses to save time and money while redistributing his soil.

A snow dusted field with a partly cloudy sky and a bright sunset

Campbell says the number of passes he has to make with his tractor makes a difference.

Soil Application

Campbell says the number of passes he has to make with his tractor makes a difference, so he spreads the soil in patches, rather than evenly, in order to save time and money.  “What we’ve found is, if you can get the soil deposited every 40 feet (9 m), you start changing the temperature in the whole area, and not just where the soil was dropped. The breeze will spread the warmth, and the snow in between the patches of soil will melt a lot faster.  We do adjust our spacing depending on the amount of snow. If there’s more snow, that means we’ve got less time, and it’s got to melt faster, so we’ll place the patches of soil closer together for more even coverage.  

Tractor sitting in a field with a researcher standing in front of it

Using a tractor to spread the soil in patches, rather than evenly, saves time and money.

Campbell adds that he is selective on which field he spreads the soil.  If the weather conditions are not looking good, and they have deep snow, then they may skip a field they think they can’t save.  Or if the fields further south have less snow, and the weather looks warm, they may also skip that field because the snow may melt on it’s own.  There are challenges in trying to make those predictions, however.  He says, “It’s hard to make those guesses based on the weather forecast because the predictions just aren’t very accurate a couple of weeks out. One year the forecast was sunny, so we applied fly ash to the fields.  But the next day it snowed a foot, and it was two weeks before that snow melted so the sun could get to the ash.  We lost quite a bit of grain that year.”

Sun shining on a wheat field

Campbell is selective on which field he spreads the soil.

Future Plans

Next year Campbell will try mixing the soil with some fly ash, to take advantage of the ash’s darker color.  He says, “We’re going to keep putting the soil back on the field. It’s less expensive, and we don’t have to haul it. Next year we’ll try mixing the soil with about ⅓ ash so we can get it a little blacker.   It will be a nice middle ground where the dark color will melt the snow, yet it won’t cost too much.  And we can redistribute the eroded, nutrient-rich topsoil.”

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