Farmers interested in trying no-till may be interested in five no-till tips.
1. Spread residue during fall harvest. — Plowing isn’t the only way to prepare a field for spring planting. Evenly distribute residue while harvesting cash crops to reduce erosion and allow for uniform breakdown of nutrients and organic matter. Residue can provide a valuable base of ground cover in winter.
2. Don’t forget about cover crops. — Farmers traditionally till to break up soil and prepare seedbeds. But in time tillage can degrade structure and create compacted soils that seemingly “need” to be tilled before planting. Plant cool-season cover crops to reduce compaction, build organic matter and hold soil in place. Farmers should choose a cover-crop species or mix that complements their cash crop. For a compacted field, use cover-crop species that are meant to break up compaction. Daikon radish is one option.
3. Choose equipment with end goals in mind. — One’s farming operation may change in time, but establishing working goals now will prevent farmers from buying equipment they ultimately don’t want. Some U.S. Department of Agriculture service centers have no-till drills and other equipment to rent for minimal fees. Offices are staffed with specialists who can work with a farmer’s specific management goals.
4. Treat no-till adoption as a marathon, not a sprint. Track results. — Building healthy resilient soil takes time. Some farmers report yield increases after their first year of no-till, but that shouldn’t be one’s main goal. Farmers can quantify several economic benefits of switching to no-till – such as fuel savings, time savings and eventual fertilizer reduction. By tracking those measures along with changes in yield, farmers can gain a truer sense of the impact of no-till. Have soil tested at least once every four years and conduct informal assessments regularly. Healthy soils are full of living organisms.
5. Visit a USDA service center. — USDA service centers can help farmers learn more about integrating no-till and other conservation practices into their management plans. Service centers can help farmers reach conservation goals that support their production needs.
Farmers across the country have reduced erosion, held valuable nutrients in fields, saved money on fuel and increased their soil’s resiliency by minimizing tillage. Having a strong plan in place will help farmers leave their plows parked for good.