The practice is also referred to as direct seeding. Farm Manager Clair Zollinger explained how no-till is being used on the farm to conserve and protect the soil and at the same time be profitable.
This 5,000 acre farm has been under agricultural production since about the early 1900’s and until recently was regularly plowed. Zollinger says that the move to no-till occurred after he decided that in order to remain in business he needed to make some changes that would cut his operating costs besides the fact that weeding and planting were not conducive to soil conservation and long-term sustainability of the land.
The farm is now in its third year under a no-till system. According to Zollinger, visible reductions in soil erosion were seen the first year as increased residue kept soil particles in place. This year the wheat crop looks as good as or better than neighboring farms under systems that use tillage and the prior two year’s yields were comparable to other production in the area.
The farm is managed under a rotation that produces wheat and safflower with fallow years between each. The weed management and soil building benefits to having safflower in the rotation under no-till were discussed.
With today’s increasing crop input costs, one standout advantage the farm has seen has been a large reduction in diesel fuel. Zollinger says his operation now uses a third of the fuel it did before moving to no-till. His equipment and labor requirements have also decreased; he noted that he only needs his seeder, combine, one tractor, and a sprayer to produce a crop on 5,000 acres and labor has decreased from three full time employees to two.
Zollinger’s Flexi-Coil 5000 HD air seeder is original equipment with 1 inch hoe openers. Adding a starter fertilizer with seeding in the fall is something Zollinger feels is helpful under no-till.
Managing for weeds and other pests has also required some changes under this system. He sprays with glyphosate and 2-4D about once a month during the fallow year to keep weeds down and once prior to spring safflower seeding. He hasn’t seen any change in pest problems since going to no-till but thinks snow mold could possibly be a problem in future with the heavier residue under this system.
The wheat is harvested about 10 inches off the ground to keep the straw length less than the drill spacing to minimize any wrapping or plugging of residue at planting time. His combine also has a straw chopper and spreader to evenly distribute residue behind the machine.
Overall, Zollinger characterized his operation as more management intensive now but feels the changes have been worth it. He’s pleased with the soil being saved from erosion and the crop yields the farm is seeing.
Clair Zollinger is willing to share his information and experience on transitioning to no-till farming with any producers who are interested. If you would like more information, please contact Nathan Rice at the Monticello NRCS office at 587-2481 ext 123.