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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?

Maddy Rabenhorst
Maddy Rabenhorst
Maddy Rabenhorst is a Field Manager for Soil Health Partnership covering South Dakota and North Dakota.