No Tillage: a tool to build soil quality

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No Tillage: a tool to build soil quality

No Tillage:

a tool to build soil quality

Planning, Selecting, Implementing, Demonstrating and

Monitoring No Till Systems for achieving Sustainable

Cropping Systems


Caution!

• Never make implementation of No-Till a goal.

• If your goal is improving soil quality; then notillage

can be an excellent tool.

• Tools do not build houses, skilled workers do.

Without a goal of building a house, tools and

workers are wasted.

• You must become the skilled worker with a

clear goal in mind; only then do the tools

become of lasting value.


References

Available online at: http://www.mandakzerotill.org/Archives.htm


Create Quality Microbial Habitat


Managing for microbial habitat in the soil

• Less Disturbance of the soil.

• More diversity in what is grown in the soil.

• Living roots in the soil as much as possible.

• Keep the soil covered with crops and their residues.

• These are the ‘keys to the kingdom’ of improving soil

quality and sustainable agriculture because they focus

on soil biology and soil ecology; what really runs the

soil and all that it does.


No-Till; a Different System –

a Different Soil

What things change when you stop tilling the soil

• Soil pores remain continuous

• Soil aggregates form and are not destroyed

• Soil Food Web increases and diversifies

• Weed seeds are not planted

• Water is captured and stored

• Bulk density increases slightly; then stabilizes

• Soil fungi and earthworms increase

• Microarthropods increase (>20% of nutrient cycle)


Lessons learned over 25 years

•Residue Management

•Soil Fertility

•Weed Control

•Soil Moisture

•Crop Rotation Diversity


Residue Management

No-till begins at harvest – residue spread

– Uniformity is the key

– Uniform weed germination

– Uniform nutrient cycling

– Uniform crop establishment

– Uniform crop development

• Keep the soil covered at all times

– Crop residues

– Cover Crop

– Next Crop in the rotation

• Residue is habitat for microorganisms


Soil Fertility

• Three-year test of faith awaiting new equillibrium

– Tilled soils are dominated by bacteria

– Soil Food Web begins to recover when undisturbed

• Increase N by 10% to reach new equillibrium

– Carbon cycle slows, so Nitrogen cycle slows

• Diversify crop rotation or suffer the consequences

– Soil Food Web must be fed a balanced diet to function


Weed Control

• “If you don’t plant weeds, they won’t grow”.

• The best herbicide is a healthy crop

– Nature will fill plant voids with weeds

• Burn down prior to planting is essential

– Set all plants to zero

– Give desired plants the advantage

– After several years burn down will be optional

• Weed spectrum changes

– Shifts from annuals to perennials

– Crop rotation diversity controls weeds

• Seed predators and decomposition increase


Soil Moisture

• Continuous no-till ~80% moisture efficient

– Minimum of 65% soil cover to conserve water

• Crop rotation

– Depth of moisture extraction

– Depth of nutrient extraction

– Depth and type of pores formed by roots

• Increase organic matter and aggregates

– O.M. and aggregates are a water “sponge”.


Crop Rotation Diversity

• Crop Rotation Intensity/Diversity Indexes

– Cool Season Grass

– Cool Season Broadleaf

– Warm Season Grass

– Warm Season Broadleaf

• At least a two year break between crop

types.

• Intensity/Diversity worksheet


Monitoring

• Weed species, pressure, location

• Residue cover and decomposition

• Soil test (+ 10% more Nitrogen first 3 years)

• Moisture amount and location in soil

• Soil Food Web populations and balance

• Aggregate stability & water infiltration

• Seeding depth ~2x diameter of seed


Demonstrating

• Continuous no-tillage for several years

• Emphasize whole system; not just drill

• Make equipment available; custom best

• Educate on what is being done and why

• Tours of successful producers

• Do not let demonstration fail; monitor closely


Become a student

• Learn as much as you can about the Soil

Food Web

• Observe and question

• Practice and do your homework

• Ask for help when you need it


How to begin

No-till begins at harvest – residue mgmt

• Rotation

– Cash crop

– Cover crop

• Weed Control

• Harvest of cash crop

• Irrigation subsurface drip

• Planting equipment/method

No-till drill - row planter - transplanter

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