The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

By Mark Watson
Resources Conservationist 

No Till Notes: '10 Tips'


I mentioned I was speaking at the No-till on the Plains annual winter conference. I am speaking to producers at the conference as part of a 40 Tips in 50 minutes presentation with Paul Jasa, UNL no-till cropping systems specialist and manager of the Roger’s Memorial Research farm near Lincoln, Nebraska and no-till producers Randy Rink and Keith Thompson. Our presentation will consist of short tips on no-till crop production.

I thought I would share with you the 10 no-till tips I will talk about at this meeting. These tips are in no real order of importance although I think I’ll start off with the tip that I think requires the most consideration and planning.

Tip number one for me is choosing the proper crop rotation. I feel this decision is the most important decision you will make on your farm. The crop rotation you choose will directly affect your bottom line, weed and disease cycles, and how your farm and soil will perform well into the future.

We have spent the past 20 plus years developing a crop rotation that fits our semi-arid climate and growing season. We have changed the crops we grow in this rotation, but have based the majority of the rotation on a cool season grass, winter wheat, a warm season grass, corn or proso millet, and a cool season legume, either chickpeas or more recently field peas. I want to make another change to our rotation. I still don’t feel we really have the proper rotation in place.

I think there are some important considerations when you design your crop rotation for no-till crop production. On dry land acres I think the biggest challenge is developing a crop rotation that fully utilizes the moisture you can expect to receive and produce profitable crops with this moisture. You have to temper your expectations of what you think you can grow with the no-till system.

The challenge is to realistically design a rotation that fully utilizes the moisture you receive without failing within the rotation too often due to low rainfall. You have to design a system that occasionally fails during the dry years so that during the normal and above normal rainfall growing seasons you have good success in utilizing the moisture you receive. The key point is to not fail too often.

I also believe we have to have a fallow period before planting the next crop. We found that trying to produce winter wheat without some fallow period prior to seeding our winter wheat really hurt our winter wheat yields. I think we need to produce as good a winter wheat crop as possible to succeed in continuous no-till crop production in our growing environment. Winter wheat really produces the residue that is required to make the whole rotation succeed.

The continuous crop rotation that we have been using for the past several years on our dry land acres has been a rotation of winter wheat, corn and field peas. I think this has been a good rotation with two-thirds of our rotation being high residue crops with the winter wheat and corn. I also think this rotation is good because two-thirds of our rotation needs moisture to produce grain in the same time frame that we generally have our wettest months, April, May and June. The field peas and winter wheat require moisture for grain production during these months.

The dry land corn takes advantage of any summer precipitation we may receive and can produce high yields if we receive normal or above normal rainfall in July and August. Dry land corn can also fail when the summer rains don’t come which happens somewhat frequently. Dry land corn production is definitely the most inconsistent part of our crop rotation. We usually get enough rain that the corn crop looks good but often fail because we don’t get enough rain to produce high yielding grain.

I think proso millet would be a good substitute for dry land corn in this rotation if you live in an area that receives less than the 15 inch average precipitation that we receive on our farm. This rotation of a cool season grass with winter wheat, a cool season legume with the field peas, and a warm season grass with the corn or proso millet is a good rotation for our area for grain production farms. This rotation provides enough diversity that weed and disease problems that can occur in mono culture production aren’t much problem with this diverse rotation.

Next week I’ll discuss what I would like to change with this rotation on our farm and also look at some of the other key tips I see for continuous no-till crop production in our area.


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