Ray Ward, a speaker at the 2010 National No-Tillage Conference and owner of Ward Laboratories, tipped me off to this little nugget at last week’s No-Till on the Plains meeting in Salina, Kan. Right now, if Nebraska no-tillers go to pull soil samples in their fields, they need to call Digger’s Hotline.
Apparently, state utility companies recently began raising a fuss that activities like soil sampling, soil cores and soil water monitoring installations were a violation of a 1994 law called the One-Call Notification System Act, which led to the Digger’s Hotline of Nebraska. It provides a central resource for notification of the exact location of future excavations so the office can determine whether any utility, communication or other lines might be cut or damaged, thus disrupting service and possibly causing safety concerns.
It’s been my experience that most of these types of buried lines can be found running parallel to roads and leading to homes. I can remember as a kid, the phone company digging a trench along our rural road and through our farm property’s lawn. Certainly, utility lines aren’t found running through the middle of farm fields, are they?
While you can certainly understand utility companies not wanting to see these lines severed, it seems like a dash of good ol’ fashioned common sense is required. To try to correct this issue, the Nebraska legislature is looking to take action on a bill Feb. 7 that would make soil sampling for nutrient and water management exempt from the ‘94 law, as well as several other cases.
On another note… While we’re talking about Nebraska, it appears that if you want to receive EQIP funding for no-till practices, it’s going to need to be strictly no-till that you practice. Frank Lessiter wrote about the strict qualifications that the state holds in his column on page 6 of the February issue of No-Till Farmer’s Conservation Tillage Guide.
We were tipped off by a reader who purchased a strip-till toolbar for his corn-corn-bean rotation that to meet EQIP standards in Nebraska and receive funding, surface disturbance from the planting operation and fertilizer placement must be less than 4 inches per row and cannot exceed 25% of the row width. This grower no-tills 15-inch soybeans and strip-tills 30-inch corn.
I have mixed feelings about this. Giving the state of Nebraska the benefit of the doubt, the amount of EQIP funding they have available may only allow them to provide funding for no-till. However, if this decision has been made because of a bias against strip-till, I don’t think this is serving Nebraska’s growers very well.
While I’d like to see every grower move to no-till, I also want to see growers move to a system closer to no-till. For that reason, I’d hate to discourage a grower using full-width tillage from moving to a system that reduces tillage to 33% of the field (10-inch-wide strips in a 30-inch-row system), particularly when you consider the high level of residue that remains on the soil surface.
Strip-till can certainly be a great transitional tool for growers looking to move toward a no-till system. And for those growers struggling with no-tilling into corn residue, it provides a helpful alternative. I would caution that it’s a practice best utilized on flat or level fields, as erosion can certainly occur in strips built on slopes. Though it’s not “pure no-till,” strip-till certainly has a valuable place in agriculture.