No Till Notes: 10 Tips, part 4
I’ve been discussing 10 tips for successful no till crop production and thus far I have covered choosing a good crop rotation, winter wheat as the most important crop for supplying a consistent amount of residues to make the rest of the crop rotation function, and utilizing a stripper head to manage this amount of residues.
I’ve also discussed the value of adding field peas to the crop rotation. Field peas are the ideal legume to add to the rotation in the spring prior to seeding winter wheat in the fall.
I have also seen firsthand on our farm how diversified cropping rotations really help break up persistent weed and disease cycles in our crops. We have really been able to control weeds like cheat grass, rye, and jointed goat grass in our winter wheat fields. These weeds were an ongoing problem in our winter wheat/summer fallow rotation prior to converting our farm to a diversified and continuous no till crop production system.
Another important tip in continuous no till crop production is to add additional weight to the drill and planter to achieve maximum down pressure when needed. We have down pressure springs on our drill and planter that are capable of applying from 450-500 pounds of down pressure to each individual planting unit provided there is weight on the frame to transfer to the planting units.
The total weight of the frame, minus the planting unit weight, and additional weight added to the planter or drill must equal 500 pounds per row unit to achieve maximum down pressure on the planting units. There are situations in planting and drilling in no till conditions where the soil is hard or the residues are tough to get consistent planting depth achieved without additional weight for proper down pressure to achieve good seed to soil contact at the desired depth.
We have added weights to the drill and planter along with water tanks for additional weight. We like the use of water tanks for added weight as we can fill them when we need the additional weight when necessary. If we don’t need the additional weight we simply leave the tanks empty. I also like this method of adding weight because we can transport the machinery without the added weight by emptying the tanks when we’re moving between fields.
Another extremely important tip to no till crop production is the value of leaving the previous crop’s residues attached and on the soil surface. Having the residues on the soil surface really allows us to manage our water resources.
These residues allow us to improve the water infiltration into the soil, whether in the form of rainfall or irrigation pumping. The residues protect the soil surface from the impacts of rainfall and irrigation and leave the pore space open for water infiltration.
Once we have the water stored in the soil these residues also greatly reduce soil moisture evaporation rates which are very high in our semiarid climate in the summer months. Our summer evaporation rates greatly exceed our precipitation during the summer months. It is very important to lower the soil moisture evaporation rates with these residues on the soil surface to help us better manage our soil moisture.
We also use soil moisture monitoring equipment on all our irrigated acres. The monitoring equipment allows us to judge the soil moisture at depths to 4 feet in the soil profile. This allows us to better manage our irrigation requirements for producing our irrigated crops. We attempt to keep the soil moisture at levels that produce profitable crop yields without pumping unnecessary groundwater. This saves not only in pumping costs but also helps preserve our groundwater resource.
With the use of the previous crops residues on the soil surface and the use of soil moisture monitoring equipment we have been able to produce profitable irrigated crops with less groundwater pumping. This saves us unnecessary pumping costs but more importantly conserves our groundwater resource.