No-tillage systems in Brazil are becoming commonplace because of the health they provide for the soil.
Dr. Ademir Calgegari, a soil scientist with the Agronomic Institute of Parana in Brazil, says Brazil is the second largest soybean and corn producing country in the world. The United States is No. 1.
“We eat soybeans every day in Brazil,” says Calgegari, who spoke at a recent Burleigh County Soil Health Workshop in Bismarck, N.D.
“The challenge we have is the acid soils from the intensive cropping systems," he says.
That is why producers in Brazil have turned to a no-till system, according to Calegari.
“A no-till system promotes a high diversity and an increase of soil life,” he says.
Germans who came to Brazil in the early 1970s brought with them the first no-till planters and integrated the system there. In fact, Calegari says, the Germans were the pioneers of no-tilling in South America and have been doing no-till successfully since then.
Two decades of research and experimentation with no-till methods has allowed “ideal” no-till systems to emerge in Brazil, involving no soil disturbance, keeping permanent cover on the soil and rotations of both cash and cover crops.
In addition, livestock are integrated into the system with grazing of various cover crops for a sustainable system.?Tillage and plowing disrupt the soil and make the soil prone to erosion.
“In the '70s, there was a big problem with soil erosion,” Calegari says. “Soil degradation is to be expected whenever there is poor management of the soil and crop residue.”
By continuously covering soil, the soil organic matter increases and when livestock are integrated into the system, the soil is brought back to a healthy, living ecosystem, he says.
“The key factor is mulch. That is what is needed to recover and maintain soil quality,” Calegari says. “In a conventional tillage system, you can't survive.”
Mulch or crop residue kept over the soil allows an active zone of decomposition, an active zone of aggregation and the formation of aggregates.
“Crop residues have good effect,” he says. “Without the residue, we lose decomposition and lose the soil structure.”
Using cover crops has really helped keep the ground covered and has kept the soil fed, he says, adding that in the 1970s a group of farmers began experimenting with cover-crop “cocktail mixes” in Brazil, and that is how the practice caught on there.
Some cover crops break up the tillage layer and grow roots deep in the soil. Some of the crops with long roots grown in Brazil include millet, corn, sorghum, mucuna and soybeans.
Radishes have a long, strong tap root with a medium carbon to nitrogen ratio, and high sulfur recycling.?? Sunnhemp is an excellent cover crop for increasing nematodes, and doesn't require herbicides, according to Calegari.
With its long roots, sunnhemp increases soil properties, reduces soil erosion, conserves soil water and recycles plant nutrients. Some of those mixes include black oats and vetch.
Calegari says there are some cover crops that can be planted without much rainfall. He explains how most producers manage their cover crop with a knife-roller system, which lays down the green crop and another crop can be planted over it. In addition, the crop could also be grazed.
“Cover crops will increase the following wheat yields, and do not require fungicides or herbicides,” Calegari says.
An example of a crop rotation used in a no-till system in Brazil includes corn and butterfly peas; wheat; soybeans and black oats and vetch cover crop. Another common rotation would be field pea, corn, wheat, stylosanthes (a type of legume) and soybeans.
No-till systems are gaining favor around the world, Calegari says. In South Africa, livestock eat a black oats cover crop. In Asmara, Russia, yellow sweet clover — a perennial legume — is a common cover crop.
In the Ukraine, winter cover crops are planted and producers attend field days when it is very cold outside. In Portugal, yellow lupin with rye is a common cover crop.
In Africa, a cover crop follows wheat and increases rice potential 100%.?? An example of a cover crop rotation in France is vetch, oats, sunflowers and Phacelie.
“Feed the soil, not the crop, and the soil will feed the crop,” Calegari says.