Long-time no-till pro offers a Top 10
By Larry Dreiling
If there's any one person who might be a father confessor to those who started using no-till practices back when they were nearly unheard of, Dwayne Beck, Ph.D., manager of the Dakota Lakes Research Farm, Pierre, S.D., might be the guy.
During the annual No-till on the Plains Winter Conference, Beck offered a "top 10 list" of the things he learned in 30 years of using no-till.
"These are things I've learned from driving around the Plains over the years," Beck said. "I can tell who the no-tillers are. They're the ones who like to show me their new house they can afford because they switched to no-till. The main thing I learned is 'no new house, not a no-tiller.'
"But I have learned some things, and here they are:"
1. No-till is just one tool to use to manage the ecosystem. "It's not important to focus on techniques. We need to focus on results. People spend too much time looking at small details and miss the big picture," Beck said.
2. Farmers and ranchers harvest sunlight, carbon dioxide and water to produce products they sell. "What percentage of these resources was wasted when the wheat-fallow system was in play?" Beck said.
3. Weeds and diseases are Mother Nature's way of adding diversity to a system that lacks it. "Add beneficial diversity to prevent problems," Beck said. "Pesticide use decreases diversity."
4. High disturbance techniques increase weed pressure, weed persistence, and cause more tillage erosion as compared with low-disturbance seeding. "Tillage erosion increases variability in the field," Beck said.
5. Sanitation, rotation and competition are the predominant method of pest control. "Pesticides are only a means to those methods. Fertilizer is part of competition. Residue management is part of rotation and sanitation," Beck said.
6. Proper nutrient cycling is an extremely important factor. "Ecosystems that leak nutrients for extended periods of time become deserts," Beck said. "Salinity is a symptom of improper nutrient and water cycling. Nutrient placement is part of proper cycling."
7. Learning proper water cycling techniques is imperative. "Knowledge of the soil's water holding characteristics is necessary. Long-term rainfall data must be used," Beck said. "A producer's risk-reward preferences are important and cover and forage crops are useful tools."
8. There should be no need to use a ground engaging component to seed and fertilize a crop. "Shoot seed stakes into the soil or use seed coats," Beck said.
9. Livestock integration will be needed. "Livestock work for nutrient cycling and rotational flexibility," Beck said.
10. Long-term productivity will probably not be maintained without the use of perennial sequences in the rotation. "Most of all," Beck said, "I've learned humility in the face of the tremendous ability of nature's organisms. It's far better to have them working for you than against you."