Conservation Tillage Systems in the Southeast

Changes in Natural Resources

Overview

Interviewed producers have observed changes to their farms’ natural resources. This section includes their comments on these changes.

Soil Quality and Quantity

After three to four years of continuous no-till, the Davis Farm fields softened. There was no crusting and the plant residues were soft. When the soil is softer, there are more soil pores for water movement, increasing water infiltration.

“The soil does not leave the farm anymore,” says Rawlins, adding that it also does not crust over and it has fewer clay clods. Triple J Farm saw soil health noticeably improve in a few years. Dargan reports that his fields are smoother with less ponding, less dust, fewer rills and cooler soil temperature.

The Davises noticed fewer rills within the first three years. There are no field repairs to make and fewer drainage ditches to maintain. Equipment damage from field ruts and rills has been eliminated.

Reduced Flooding and Ponding

The increased soil softness reduces incidence of flooding and ponding, and increases water infiltration. Continuous no-till has practically eliminated runoff on the Davis Farm. On the Brock Farm, with conventional tillage, even a quarter-inch storm produced runoff. With no-till, a 6-inch rain produces very limited runoff. With more soil organisms and more healthy plant roots, there are more soil pores, especially macro-pores, through which water moves. When there is runoff, it is clear. Within the first three years, there were fewer rills in the field.

Increased Earthworms

Poking into the soil of the Davis Farm will typically reveal at least one earthworm and usually reveals several. Paul Davis reports this was a significant change.

Groundwater Quality

When the runoff is clear, the question is: Are the nutrients leaching into the groundwater? The Davis Farm, working with Virginia Tech and the local soil and water conservation district (SWCD), installed 12 lysimeters on the farm to measure nitrogen leaching through the soil to the groundwater. For four years, samples were taken after significant rainfall events. So far, no difference has been measured in nitrogen leaching between the tilled and the continuously no-tilled fields. That is, reducing runoff did not increase nitrogen leaching to the groundwater.

Air Quality

All producers interviewed have noticed a reduction of dust.

Download the tables from Chapter 18.

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