No-till, crop rotation important for future
By Jennifer Carrico
Taking care of the land is how farmers can preserve the ground for future generations to ensure maximum production, according to Dwayne Beck, manager of Dakota Lakes Research Farm near Pierre, S.D.
The farmer-owned research facility is operated in cooperation with South Dakota State University. Researchers perform long-term studies to see how different farming practices, especially no-till, affect the land.
“We make no pretense at having all the answers for producers interested in no-till. We do hope that our experience and success at developing no-till farming systems will be a benefit. We are confident that many of the principles which we utilize may be adaptable for benefit in many areas,” he said.
One of the main benefits to no-till farming is less fuel is used, Beck said. In Minnesota, where tillage is king, it takes slightly under 10 gallons of diesel fuel per acre for tillage, seeding and harvest.
“We are very efficient at reducing fuel usage. This was one reason we moved toward no-till practices,” Beck added.
It takes the energy of 1 gallon of diesel fuel to manufacture, transport and apply 5 pounds of nitrogen. Beck said the manufacturing of fertilizer still continues to be a problem for the agricultural industry.
If the Minnesota farmer applies 150 pounds per acre of nitrogen, the energy involved is three times that used for tillage, seeding and harvest.
“With nearly 80 percent of total input cost in ag now can be traced directly to fossil fuels energy at the present time, we are trying to find ways to reduce this,” he said.
The dependence on fossil fuels 120 years ago was zero and Beck said this will need to be zero again within 120 years from now. One of the goals at Dakota Lakes is to become fossil fuel neutral by 2026.
One small way researchers are working toward this goal is with the pressing of oil seed crops to make oil. They produce enough oil for the needs at the farm for the year. The by-product of this production is high oil meal, which is a good source of feed.
The Dakota Lakes farm started using no-till in 1970s to prevent erosion under center-pivot irrigation systems. With no-till they have no runoff with irrigators applying 2 inches of water in nine minutes.
“No till is a better to more efficiently use the water and help us manage our ecosystem. We want to address the problem instead of treat the symptoms of the problem,” he said.
Like farmers, Beck said, researchers strive to produce a healthy crop, which will withstand a lot. Preventing pests and diseases, while providing good soil moisture, and a good environment for the crops to develop and is the goal.
“We can’t continue to do tillage like we have and expect to have good farmground in the future,” he said. “We are going to have to change our practices and reduce tillage. Tillage isn’t a natural part of the system.”
When planting crops, the fertilizer is placed very close to the actual row. Movement of residue is only where the seed is placed. Weeds have to be continually controlled. Fertilizer management in a no-till system is very important after plants start growing. Not much fertilizer is needed at V1 stage, but at V2, plants need extra phosphorus for maximum effectiveness.
“Broadcast fertilizer before or at seeding encourages weeds, so we want to have moisture and fertilizer available at the same time,” he said.
Healthy roots are needed to take up the proper nutrients from the soil. A change in cultural practices may not show improvement in the first year or two, but will eventually show productivity improvements.
Short-term studies are not accurate in evaluating treatments such as tillage or rotations, which have major impacts.
Beck said crop rotation helps with proper intensity of water and carbon, providing adequate diversity in the system, making the ground productive and efficient.
Proper rotations help with weed prevention, crop productivity. Sequence and intervals are important to get good productivity.
“Simple and compound rotations can help make your farm more productive, but both take good management practices,” he said.
A good rotation should use crops that complement each other and don’t share diseases or pest problems, thus allowing crops to be more productive. Diversity in sequences and intervals help fight diseases and pests, too.
“The goal is to be inconsistent in both sequence and interval in order to fight the problems farmers could have with diseases, pests and resistances,” he added. “Farmers can definitely prevent problems with proper rotations.”
Good rotations must fit the operator and the ecosystem. There is no set recipe or best rotations. Rotations must meet the needs of the individual fields also.
Beck said it is important to know what your individual fields need and how no-till can work on each farm. Proper use of no-till and rotations will help preserve U.S. farm ground for future generations.
For more information about the Dakota Lakes Research Farm, visit www.dakotalakes.com.
Jennifer Carrico can be reached by phone at 515-833-2120, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.