Doing More With Less Water

Like many no-tillers in North America, Australian no-tillers are concerned with the impact of changing climate and drought conditions. However, no-till and several other innovative ideas have helped the country’s wheat growers deal with reduced water supplies while boosting yields over the past 3 decades.

Water-Limited Yields

Besides making a shift to no-till, the first innovative idea was dealing with a water-limited yield factor. The goal is that about 18 pounds of wheat per acre should be produced for each 1 inch of water that the crop uses. At the time this goal was accepted by growers, wheat yields only averaged about half of this figure, says John Passioura, a honorary research fellow at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization that serves as Australia’s national science agency.

New Crop Rotations

The second change was to introduce canola into the crop rotation. Where this was done, no-tillers found wheat yields were much greater following canola than with continuous wheat or rotating wheat with other crops.

No-tillers found the presence of canola roots in the soil sharply reduced the vigor of previously unrecognized root diseases. For years, several serious root diseases had led to unreliable responses to nitrogen.

Less Tillage

The third change by Australian growers over the past few decades was a rapid shift to no-till and other conservation-tillage techniques. This was possible with the development of more effective herbicides that meant extensive tillage was no longer needed to kill weeds. As a result, no-tillers gained the confidence to aim…

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Frank Lessiter

Frank Lessiter has served as editor of No-Till Farmer since the publication was launched in November of 1972. Raised on a six-generation Michigan Centennial Farm, he has spent his entire career in agricultural journalism. Lessiter is a dairy science graduate from Michigan State University.

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