After corn is chopped and combines move through fields, crop residue and stubble remains, leading some growers to tillage processes, yet soil experts continue to encourage growers to leave the stubble for the sake of soil health.
According to the most recent Agricultural Resources Management Survey on the production practices of corn, cotton, soybean and wheat, data shows that roughly half (51%) growers used either no-till or strip-till at least once over a four-year period. As reported by the survey, 21% used no-till or strip-till every year during the same four-year period. The other half of producers (49%) used full width tillage every year.
Between the USDA, NRCS and researchers such as PREC Soil and Nutrient Management Specialist Bijesh Maharjan, no- till methods can provide a number of benefits in terms of soil health and stability.
Specifically in Western Nebraska, Maharjan said, no-till can be beneficial to growers simply due to recent dry conditions and wind that can sweep across the Panhandle, moving exposed topsoil.
“What happens with till is it makes the soil more vulnerable to losses, no-till has more stability and there is more water infiltration,” Maharjan said.
Maharajan said, benefits of no-till farming include a reduction of losses from erosion because soil remains covered and intact. But in addition to a significant reduction in erosion, no-till allows soils to get the most out of available moisture and retain nutrients.
Growers who put no-till systems in place may also experience a reduction in fuel and labor costs, but Maharjan said, no-till does have some downfalls which include things such as an increase in weed pressure.
Although weed pressure may be a factor, a long-term tillage yield comparison study from UNL’s Rogers Memorial Farm, shows a number of no-till crops experienced a significant increase in yield numbers in comparison to plowing, disking, chisel, a number of combinations between the tillage types and no-till with cultivation.
Maharjan said, he doesn’t have any hard numbers in terms of how many growers in the panhandle who use no-till or tillage systems, but dry land cropping systems are generally a good candidate for no-till methods of production. And from his experience he suggests a significant number of producers in Western Nebraska use modified tillage systems.
According to the Agricultural Resources Management Survey, topography and soil conditions are what likely deter some growers from putting no-till practices to use. Specific soil and climatic factors may impact the results of no-till systems.
As reported by the USDA through research, “highly erodible” land and well-drained land (land that dries out quickly enough to avoid crop damage due to wet conditions) are more likely than other land to be in continuous no-till over time.
Although, some cropping systems may experience a number of pay offs from no-till practices, researchers recommend producers to consider all the advantages and disadvantages for specific soils before making decisions to alter tillage methods.
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