Bob Freebairn, an agricultural consultant based in Coonabarabran, Australia, sees the short-term and long-term benefits of no-tilling in a world faced with climate change.

“My approach to climate change predictions is more or less the same management that we currently aim to follow, but at a higher standard, of our cropping and livestock enterprises,” Freebairn writes in a column for The Land. “What is good for projected climate change is good for management of agriculture.”

Crop stubble and pasture cover helped Freebairn capture rainfall and store water in the soil to prevent erosion during a recent drought. Now, he considers his crop sequences to ensure sufficient stubble cover for not just one, but often two years.

Alfalfa, a good legume for year-round production and building soil nitrogen, can leave soil bare and unable to absorb rain. Freebairn says some farmers and researchers have found sowing alfalfa with a perennial, such as tropical grasses, addresses both these issues.

“Combining lucerne [alfalfa] with tropical grasses requires a different sowing strategy, including perhaps paired rows and a spring sowing when temperatures suit both species for joint germination,” Freebairn says.

Crop varieties that have been designed to cope with drought and warmer conditions will help no-tillers, regardless of the severity of future climate variability, Freebairn says. These improved varieties can better handle difficult seasonal conditions, too.

Freebairn believes fallow management and in-crop weed control strategies will become increasingly important for farming now and in the future.

Early fallow weed control is critical, except where weeds or self-sown crops are allowed to grow to provide groundcover. Weeds use soil water needed for the next crop and tie up soil nutrients, especially nitrogen. He cites research that found nitrogen availability for the following crop can be 35 pounds per acre less, compared to fallow with early weed control. The extra stored soil water is worth an average of 892 pounds per acre in extra grain yield.

“Timely weed control can commonly mean an extra couple of herbicide treatments per fallow, but that must be costed against lower yield and more nitrogen fertilizer inputs,” Freebairn says.

In-crop weed control considerations include herbicide choice, closer row spacing, crop varieties with more vigorous seedlings, herbicide group rotation and strategies like double knock, the sequential use of two weed control techniques.

Related Content

Early Adoption of No-Till in Australia Helps Farmers Grow in Dry Conditions: Australia is one of the world leaders in no-till acres. About 56.7 million acres are no-tilled, which equates to about 67% of its cropland.

Research Examines Water Balance of Field Peas, Chickpeas and Soybeans vs Fallow: Over the past 30 years, many dryland farmers use no-till chem-fallow to improve water conservation practices under wheat-corn-fallow or wheat-fallow rotations. However, sustainability of fallow is becoming a major challenge.

From ‘No Hope in Heck’ to Regenerative No-Tilling: Married and both raised in farming families, Ian and Dianne Haggerty were shocked when they sought advice from a farm advisor on managing their fledgling operation in the drylands of southwestern Australia. 

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Since 1991, Martin Industries has designed, manufactured and sold leading agriculture equipment across the U.S. and Canada. Known for Martin-Till planter attachments, the company has expanded to include a five-step planting system, closing wheel systems, twisted drag chains, fertilizer openers and more in their lineup. Their durable and reliable planter attachments are making it possible for more and more farmers to plant into higher levels of residue.