Conservation Tillage Systems in the Southeast

Why Change to No-Till?

Overview

The producers were asked why they made the transition to no-till. There were three major reasons: fewer trips across the field, the soil and future market opportunities. Table 18.1 captures the perspective of one interviewed farmer, Rawlins, on the various challenges associated with both conventional tillage and no-till.

Fewer Trips Across the Field

Fewer trips across the field mean less fuel, less equipment maintenance and less labor. These cost savings allow for investment in other enterprises on the farm. And, labor previously used to plow the fields is now available for other farm enterprises.

On the Davis Farm, it takes two days to plant 75 acres of wheat using one tractor and one no-till drill. Previously, with conventional tillage, it took seven days to plant the same 75 acres using moldboard plowing, heavy offset disking and planting.

Time was the major reason for Triple J Farm to start no-till. Labor previously used for field operations is now available to repair equipment in the cotton gin or to work in the granary.

Dargan says fuel consumption is reduced by 50 percent, and he saves the labor cost of three trips across the field.

Soil

The soil ecosystem and soil erosion were concerns for all of the producers regardless of their production system and rotation.

Rawlins started no-till more than 40 years ago because he wanted to keep his soil on the farm. “What could be more important to a farmer than soil erosion and soil quality? High-quality soil is a business asset,” he says. He knew he had to do something when a 1.1-inch rain resulted in extensive erosion and sediment deposition. His conventionally tilled snap bean seedlings were uprooted and were carried into row furrows and terrace channels by runoff. Snap beans had to be replanted. As Rawlins still sees it today, he cannot farm if he does not have high-quality soil.

The Brocks saw that their soil quality was deteriorating and the very dry years of 1998 and 2000 made the deterioration obvious when they experienced “corn disasters.” Before the switch to no-till, the Brocks worked each winter to address drainage and erosion problems.

Soil moisture was the second reason that Triple J Farm changed to no-till. Dargan estimates that no-till, in addition to saving soil moisture, also saves two to three tons of good soil per acre because of reduced erosion.

Future Market Opportunities

For the Davis Farm, the second reason to adopt no-till was “futuristic.” Because no-till increases soil organic matter, the Davises believe they have the potential to participate in future carbon and/or nutrient trading markets.

Download the tables from Chapter 18.

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