BRILLION, Wis. – The benefits in reducing farming’s climate-change footprint are immensely enhanced by no-till farming, according to an article by Nicholas Staropoli in the June 2016 edition of the Genetic Literacy Project. Fuel costs saved by running the tractor less can reduce fuel usage by as much as 80 percent, one estimate suggests.
In addition to reduced carbon emissions from mechanical equipment in no-till farming, there are several other benefits to the environment. No-till farming – especially when paired with cover crops – reduces carbon emissions through greater sequestration of carbon dioxide by the soil.
Lewis H. Krueger has farmed 700 acres near Brillion in Calumet County for more than 30 years. Through time he and his farm manager, Kevin Smith, have become believers in no-till farming. Krueger is also the CEO of Appleton Marine in Appleton, Wisconsin. The company specializes in the fabrication of heavy-duty cranes and other products for the marine industry.
Krueger’s interest in no-till farming and cover crops was reinforced, he said, when he learned about what Gabe Brown was doing on his farm bear Bismarck, North Dakota. The use of methods to build soil rather than deplete it is what Brown was accomplishing on his 5,000-acre farm. No-tilling and cover crops are essential components of regenerative agriculture, which builds soil.
Krueger took a trip 18 months ago to Washington state to look at no-till drills in use there. That’s where he met Gavin Porter, a former New Zealander who was promoting the “Cross Slot No-Till System.” The science and technology behind the Cross Slot system originated at Massey University in New Zealand.
Krueger was impressed with the unique Cross Slot technology he said, so asked if the New Zealand company needed an American manufacturer to produce drills in the United States. An agreement was made. Appleton Marine purchased the intellectual-property rights to the Cross Slot Technology for the western hemisphere of the world. Krueger and Porter recently held a field day to demonstrate the drill on Krueger’s acreage.
Currently there are about 50 Cross Slot drills in use in the United States. The Palouse region of Idaho as well as the Dakotas are home to the majority of them. The model on Krueger’s farm is the only one east of the Mississippi.
“We intend on changing that,” Krueger said with confidence.
His 40-foot unit is pulled by a 580-horsepower tractor. It uses an air cart to blow the seed as the horizontal furrow is opened.
“The key to the system is two half-shoes on each side of the coulter that opens the trench,” he said. “After the seed and fertilizer are dispensed side-by-side in the trench, complete coverage is accomplished by the press wheel. The sealing of the trench is complete. It allows humidity to be trapped in the slot, thus creating an ideal environment for germination.”
Porter is now vice-president of sales and marketing for the new Cross Slot division of Appleton Marine. He said the drills can be built to suit any farm size.
“Smaller units have seed and fertilizer units mounted on them and don’t require an air cart,” he said. “The hydraulic system that controls the down pressure on the coulters and press wheels is sophisticated and results in even planting depth with these units.”
He further added that vertical and slanted slots can be difficult to close, especially in damp soil.
“With horizontal slots the seed is tucked under a flap of soil at the time the slot is created, ensuring the seed is always covered,” he said.
Smith, who manages the day-to-day operation of Krueger’s 700-acre farm, noted the features on the air cart used at the demonstration.
“The 6-inch air hoses require two fans to move the seed and fertilizer through them,” he said. “The diameter is reduced to 4.5 inches closer to the drill, and dimples on the tubing keeps the seed and fertilizer in the central area of the tubes rather than around its circumference. This allows for even and accurate seed and fertilizer placement in bands opposing each other rather than mixed together in the trench.”
He also pointed out restored wetland on the farm, which is a haven for cranes and other wildlife.
The Cross Slot No-Till System has been the subject of yield studies by a number of research institutions, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture at Pullman, Washington. That research compared the Cross Slot No-Till technology against double-disc no-tillage. The seven-year study compared winter-wheat yields with the Cross Slot method; the Cross Slot method showed a 13 percent yield increase. The Foundation for Arable Research in Canterbury, New Zealand, did a similar comparison with winter-crop rotations. In the past five years of the 10-year experiment the Cross Slot showed a 23 percent yield increase.
“This technology is aimed at the conservation-minded farmer interested in one-pass planting,” Krueger said. “Here in Wisconsin the average topsoil loss per year is 4.7 tons. How long can we sustain that?”