Building A Better No-Till Soil

Gypsum, cover crops, manure and even vertical tillage can be part of a multifaceted no-till system that improves soil health and brings in higher yields.

There's no doubt most no-tillers are good stewards of the land and want to conserve it for themselves and future generations. To most farmers, that means conserving their soil base — and to others it means improving it.

Conservation tillage, including reduced tillage and no-till, has conserved soil, reduced nutrient and soil runoff and saved production costs. And over time, hopefully these benefits have led to increases in both yield and profitability.

But how do you know for sure if your soil is improving? Have you ever bothered to check it?

The sight of corn-stalk and soybean residue covering undisturbed soil is always appealing to no-tillers, and many of them probably take it for granted that the residue is first being consumed by earthworms and then by other organisms down the food chain. This process can transform soil from average to exceptional.

While I consider no-till a good practice, no-till alone will not automatically transform soils. I say this from a point of experience with two of our fields.

We farm 160 acres that have been in continuous no-till for 12 years. The soil has remained virtually unchanged and has underperformed during that time.

We have another 80 acres of a similar soil type and landscape that has also been in continuous no-till, but we’ve improved it to where it performs far beyond our expectations. It went from being the worst field to the best in terms of crop yield, soil fitness and softness.

A testimony to success is that…

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Davidson daniel

Daniel Davidson

Veteran farm advisor and agronomist Daniel Davidson no-tills near Stanton, Nebraska, and works as a private consultant.

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