Digging In

No time to till?  Why not no-till?

No time to till? Why not no-till?

By SHP Field Managers on Thursday, 02 May, 2019

For many of you in the Midwest, 2018 brought some challenges. Lots of rain, lots of snow and lots of moisture that made harvest and any sort of fieldwork difficult.  Many of the farmers we talked to didn’t get the chance to complete all of their fall tillage due to poor field conditions. This spring hasn’t been much better, bringing snow and rain to many areas, meaning lots of mud and delayed planting progress.  It’s already May so hopefully, planters have already started or will start hitting the field here in the coming weeks as time will be limited.

With that being said, did you finish up what you set off to do last spring or do you have fall tillage plans that have haunted you all winter?  If you didn’t have time to get your tillage finished up last fall, why not use this as an opportunity to take a run at no-till?  Now, hear us out, though.  Just because you didn’t get a chance to till, doesn’t mean no-till is going to be a piece of cake, but it may be an opportunity to try out a practice that you weren’t willing to before.  

No-till may mean less time behind the wheel of a tractor, but it will certainly take some more planning before we hit the field to plant.  We’ve got a few tips to consider to see if trying out no-till this spring is right for you.

  1. Start with soybeans.  Not that you can’t start with corn, but the resilience that soybeans bring to the table goes beyond corn.  If we don’t get the seed-to-soil contact or seed placement just right, they will most-likely compensate and yield right through it.  Corn, on the other hand, is more sensitive to seed placement and we can start affecting yield quickly if we don’t adjust the planter correctly.
  2. Be aware of compaction.  Last fall was wet in most areas.  Like really wet.  That means that crops came out when the ground was wet and we could be looking at some compaction issues, whether it’s in the field where the combine drove or on the end rows where continuous trucks and wagons were parked to haul the grain away.  Before you take the planter to the field, assess the damages.  If there is extreme compaction, you probably want to think about planting soybeans instead of corn to help break-up that compaction.  And, as I mentioned above, make sure that you get your plants off on the right foot.
  3. Adjust your planter accordingly.  With a tillage system, your seedbed is created by the tillage tool and your planter’s main job is to make sure the seed is placed correctly. No-till is a whole different animal.  Now the planter is creating a seedbed and planting the seed, all at the same time. Make sure your row cleaners are set correctly to get the residue out of the way and scratching the surface of the soil to ensure your seed has no problem coming out of the ground.
  4. Consider modifying your herbicide program.  In a no-till system, we have to primarily rely on herbicides as our source of weed control since we aren’t performing any tillage on that field. Depending on your current herbicide program, it may or may not be a fit for a no-till situation. Proper burndown of weeds is critical before or right after planting and can be achieved by adding a burndown herbicide to your current soybean pre-emergent herbicide program. It’s important to remember to identify the weeds you’re trying to target in the field and use the herbicide label as a reference for rates, mixing capabilities, and other important information.

No-till isn’t difficult, but it does take some planning.  Take the leap and try no-till this spring, but make sure you do your homework.  Think about the time and fuel you could save this spring if just a field or two didn’t need a tillage pass!

Have questions?  Reach out to an SHP Field Manager or send an email to soilhealth@ncga.com.