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In the 40 years I’ve been tracking no-till, soil biology has never received as much attention as it does today. As no-tillers refine their systems, more are recognizing the importance of doing a better job of managing the millions of critters living under the soil surface.
During a panel discussion at the recent 30th anniversary celebration of the Conservation Technology Information Center, the increased value of soil biology was mentioned numerous times.
As no-tillers become more efficient, Jerry Hatfield says, taking a closer look at soil biology will be critical to boosting efficiency. The director of the USDA National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment in Ames, Iowa, says farmers will also have to consider how increasing climate variability will affect their soil management decisions.
A speaker at the upcoming 2013 National No-Tillage Conference, Hatfield described a 2012 project that produced 290 bushels per acre of corn in a simulated Iowa fence row — despite the hot, dry growing conditions. This research demonstrated the value of not using practices that can influence underground soil biology.
Hatfield says the key is fitting all the pieces of the no-till puzzle together. “There are a lot of different pieces to today’s technology, but we haven’t yet figured out how to make it all work together effectively,” he says. “Yet it’s not so much new technology that we still need, but better ways of putting it all together.”
Dan DeSutter became interested early in his farming career in…