What is No-Till Farming?
No-Till is a farming technique farming technique called No-Till sowing which minimises soil disturbance and retains crop residues, bringing substantial benefits to farmers. Sowing techniques range from conventional to zero-till farming each with varying degrees of soil disturbance.
No-till (often called zero till or direct drill) is one of a number of farming systems used to grow crops. The No-Till system seeks to encourage microbial activity and other organisms such as earth worms to flourish naturally working the soil to provide voids for increased infiltration and favorable conditions for crop growth. Just like the name suggests, there is no tillage, crop residue is left standing to decompose on top of the soil, seed is drilled into the standing stubble and weeds are controlled using chemicals. It improves soil structure to prevent soil erosion during wind and rain events. Over time, the soil health will improve with increased levels of organic material. The soil will become friable allowing plant roots to penetrate easily and get established quickly and intercept moisture and nutrients at depth; this is particularly useful when cropping in limited moisture.
A broad range of chemicals are used as fertilizers and to control weeds and disease. Some of the biggest challenges for No-Till farmers relate to weed control as some herbicides can be expensive and others are prone to resistance from crops.
Crop rotations are used to improve the soil as well as growing cash crops such as legumes to increase the nitrogen in the soils and canola to create voids in the soils with its long tap root which acts as an effective conduit for moisture.
Permanent tracks are often used to drive the machinery on for all operations, crops are not grown on these tracks (note: sometimes crops are grown on tracks to slow down water particularly on slopes) To accelerate the advantages of switching to no-till it may be beneficial to deep rip as a preparation in the first year. However, maximum benefits will not be instant as it will take some time for the soils to revert to a more natural state, allow moisture in for storage and break down organic material
Standing stubble has many advantages as follows;
- It provides cover from the sun thus reducing moisture loss
- It slows down run off from rain events thus reducing erosion
- It slows down wind speed at ground level thus reducing erosion due to wind blast
- Crops can now be cut just below the head resulting in more efficient and faster harvesting which can be vital to get the crops harvested prior to rain fall events or frost
A Tobin No-Till disc planter has many advantages;
- It allows us to plant in high amounts of crop residue
- It reduces the draft requirements for planting, reducing capital investment and fuel consumption
- It allows us to plant fast reducing labour requirements during planting
- Farmers can avoid the capital cost of purchasing expensive wider planting machinery
- Permanent tracks are made easy using GPS, the same tracks are used when planting, spraying and harvesting, it is important to consider carefully the best track width when setting up as it is expensive to change.
Traditionally, land was cultivated a number of times to control weeds and prepare a fine seed bed, that method of seed bed preparation is now called "conventional" farming. To accomplish this, many passes were made over the land with heavy tillage equipment and the land was compacted just below the area of cultivation which we call the "hard pan". This hard pan did not allow infiltration or at the least allowed limited infiltration and therefore a valuable moisture reservoir could not be utilized.
Further, the depth which was being cultivated year after was now so fine that it also did not have voids to store moisture, there was little or no microbial activity, organic material decreased and in some cases the fines would pack together and render infiltration impossible. Soils became very hard and required even larger machinery to cultivate deeper and farming in some areas was becoming unsustainable.
As time went by these steps became more intensive such as increased tillage and increased fertilizers. Farming was becoming unsustainable, inputs were increasing and this is particularly evident in Eastern Europe where farming methods have not changed and soils are less productive.
Stock grazing on the land is common with conventional farming and can compact the fines to cause even more compaction. All this cultivation and compaction stifled natural microbial activity and organic material in the soil grew more and more difficult to incorporate and breakdown.
Some weeds started to dominate as farmers were unwittingly changing the balances that nature had provided in the soils. In some cases, the fines were being eroded by water and wind.
Conventional farming practices are still being used by many farmers, particularly older farmers that have made a half hearted attempt at No-Till but without the proper management skills or machinery which resulted in failure.
Organic farming takes the No-Till system even further in that it does not use synthetic materials such as insecticides, herbicides or fungicides. However, there is a range of different activities associated with organic farming, and can include no till, minimum till or conventional.
Farmers are a diversified lot and, as with any systems there are variations, for example a bridging system between conventional till and no till is sometimes called minimum till for which the practices vary wildly depending on management techniques. Many farmers will lean towards practices that have been proven in their area or machinery that is available given regional variations.
The information contained herein is given in good faith but is of a general nature and changes may be required when introducing cropping systems in different areas. It is best to consult an agronomist with No-Till experience in your soil types and exposure to your weed types. Weed control is a vital part of No-Till and local knowledge should be used to combat weed infestations.
World Leading Disc Planting Performance
Have us send you out a Free DVD on No Till Farming using the Tobin Drill. The DVD feature farmers across land speaking of their experiences.
A good disc planter should halve your fuel bill compared with conventional planters due to the lower energy requirements of the discs machines.
The Tobin No-Till disc drill is simple to operate and does its job efficiently with the minimum of fuss. Sticky soils, rocks, trash and stubble…