Digging In

No-Till Success, Follow Your Senses

No-Till Success, Follow Your Senses

By Maddy Rabenhorst on Thursday, 21 November, 2019

As I discussed in the previous blog, transitioning to no-till requires commitment. What are some easily identifiable ways for you to know how well your no-till system is working? By using sight, touch, and smell, you can determine if you’ve established a successful no-till system and if it’s improving your soil health.

I have included a few ways to tell if your no-till system is successful and is improving your soil health by simply walking your field:

Take stand counts

  • Quantifying and visually assessing stand counts is an easy and quick way to determine how well the crop was established. No-till will require different adjustments to your planter than you are used too. Evaluating stand counts can help you determine how your planter performed in the no-till conditions and if future adjustments need to be made. In a successful no-till system, stand counts should be very similar to those you’re used to seeing in a conventional tillage system. 

Evaluate seedling health 

  • Evaluate seedling health by checking for the presence of pests or diseases early on in the season. A no-till system can sometimes produce a wetter and cooler planting environment which can leave the seed susceptible to seedling diseases. Certain pests also thrive in no-till conditions so it’s important to scout early and regularly to identify these potential problems. 

Look for worms

  • When walking out into a no-till field, spotting worms is typically very easy. It’s very common to easily identify wormholes and middens on the soil surface. The same is not true for a conventional tillage field, which requires digging around to spot worms. Worms are difficult to find in conventional tillage fields because their habitat has been destroyed by tillage. No-till fields provide a healthy habitat for worms to flourish, pull down residue, create the pores necessary to improve water infiltration, reduce soil compaction, and bring your soil back to life. 

Feel the difference

  • Pick up the soil and hold it in your hands. In a tillage field, you will see and feel a lot of layers in the soil caused by compaction. Soil in a tillage field will break apart in chunks and have very little structure to it. In a no-till field, the soil feels more granular and will fall apart in your hand, it has good soil structure and feels like it is a good soil to plant into. 

Smell the difference

  • Pick up the soil and smell it--yes, really! When you protect the soil and let it live in the environment that it is, no-till soil smells alive. It is easy to smell the difference between no-till soil and conventionally tilled soil. 

If you are having the same yields, good crop stands, and your crop looks healthy, your no-till system is working. Are you ready to start no-till?