Now's the Time for No-Till
No-till might eliminate the traditional fall tillage chore, but producers can't just wait until spring and start no-tilling. "It starts in the fall," explains Randall Reeder, agricultural engineer with Ohio State University Extension. By planning ahead, farmers can get an earlier start on planting in the spring and improve the productivity of their no-till fields.
During harvest, farmers should adjust equipment so crop residue is distributed uniformly. Soil won't dry evenly in the spring if strips of heavy residue are left to hold in moisture, explains Reeder. Fall weed control is also important on fields that will be no-tilled. "Otherwise you're going to be planting into a weedy mess come spring," he warns.
Farmers with slow-drying soils can plant corn sooner in the spring if they use fall strip tillage. It qualifies as a form of no-till because it leaves residue on the soil surface between strips, explains Reeder. Potassium and phosphorous can even be applied in the strips, but applying nitrogen can be tricky, he adds. Anhydrous ammonia needs to be applied late in the fall so it's not lost over the winter, but strip tillage needs to be done as soon after soybean harvest as possible to avoid wet weather in late fall.
Besides preparing fields for no-till, producers need to prepare machinery. For instance, a corn planter might need row cleaners and different press wheels. Producers should also select seed with no-till in mind since no-till presents different disease and insect challenges.
Farmers sometimes put off switching to no-till because they want to build up soil fertility or correct soil pH first, but Reeder says it's not worth the wait. "Don't delay no-till adoption just to get lime and fertilizer mixed in," he says. "Apply it as needed on the surface." Delaying the switch to no-till delays conservation benefits as well as savings in production costs, he explains
For more information on no-till, Reeder recommends the book "Conservation Tillage Systems and Management" sold in book form or as a CD-ROM. To order, contact MidWest Plan Service, www.mwpshq.org or phone: (800) 562-3618.