From NRCS District Conservationist, Tina Tuller
- Compaction - Check each field at various locations for compacted layers and tillage layers with abrupt density changes. Don’t assume winter freeze and thaw cycles will remove these layers. Use a Cover Crop mix with a deep rooting combination of fibrous and tap root species. A low surface disturbance inline ripper can be used prior to seeding a cover crop to fracture these layers. If the soil needs leveling prior to cover crop planting, a shallow, low residue disturbing, rotary harrow or vertical tillage tool should be used. Avoid finishing tools, or disks that re-creates horizontal tillage bands with shovels, sweeps or angled disks.
- Adapt Harvest Equipment - Combines, grain carts and tractor should be equipped for controlled traffic and/or with floatation tires/tracks. Manage crop residues with a combination of corn head upgrades that adequately crush the stalk at multiple locations and choppers and spreaders that distribute all crop residues evenly as they exit the combine.
- pH - Check the pH by separating 6” cores into 0-3” and 3-6” soil samples. If pH is below 6.0 at both depths then lime should be incorporated with a chisel plow. If only the surface is low, then incorporation is generally unnecessary if high calcium lime is available.
- Soil Fertility - Follow the same testing procedures as for pH. High and very high test levels in the 0-3” or low fertility in the 3-6” zone should be addressed through deep (>4”) banding, or incorporation if adequate equipment is not available.
- Leveling the field - Ridges, ruts and gullies will not be corrected by merely switching to no-till. Coordinate corrective measures with above operations where possible.
- Drainage - Repair, replace, and install new tile systems. Few investments will return more than drainage where drainage is needed.
- Control perennial, biannual, and winter annual weeds - Most of these weeds are best controlled with fall applied herbicides.
- Consider Cover Crops - Nearly every item on the above checklist can be complimented by the use of a cover crop. The ultimate economic incentive from a no-till system comes from improving soil health. Cover crops can increase the rate at which this transformation occurs. Seed appropriate species or mixes immediately after completing harvest or a corrective measure mentioned previously.
- Make plans to attend as many winter no-till workshops and roundtables as possible - Farmer networks and alliances are born out of these kinds of meetings. Most of the successful long term no-tillers rely on networks.
The Gratiot Conservation District and Natural Resources Conservation Service offers conservation planning, including technical and financial assistance to address natural resource concerns. Contact the Conservation District office for more information on conservation planning, upcoming conservation workshop, and how no-till farming can benefit you.