NON-STOP LEARNING. Ray Rawson, center, listens intently as an attendee at the 2003 National No-Tillage Conferences describes soybean planting concerns during one of the 80 No-Till Roundtable sessions. Having experimented over the years with soybean seeding populations from 80,000 to 225,000 seeds per acre, Rawson suggests an optimum population of 150,000 to 160,000 plants per acre with no-till. Heâ??s harvested as high as 118 bushels of soybeans per acre.

Farming Vertically Pays With No-Till

To no-till 100 bushel per acre soybeans, the critical factor is expanding the amount of life in your soils.

Increasing no-till yields is a matter of learning to “farm vertically,” maintains Ray Rawson. More than 40 years of no-tilling in northern Michigan have taught Rawson that it’s all about massive root systems and not ever about higher soybean plant populations.

In fact, the Farwell, Mich., grower has even harvested an amazing 118 bushels per acre of soybeans from a 160 acre field.

Rawson notes that although growing conditions vary around the globe, certain things remain consistent. One such principle is “You have to have life in the soil.”

He compares the soil to the stomach in animals and humans. It’s where the plant’s “food” — residue — is broken down into vital nutrients. The more organic life that exists in your no-tilled soils, the larger amount of these nutrients that will be available to the crop. The larger and deeper the plant’s root system, the better it will absorb these nutrients as well as carbon dioxide, oxygen and water. More and larger roots also provide a friendlier environment for beneficial life forms like earthworms.

With this kind of environment in place, and given the increasing cost of seed, Rawson maintains that it’s not necessary to keep increasing your no-till soybean population to move closer to a goal of 100 bushels per acre. Over the years, he’s experimented with populations as high as 225,000 soybean plants per acre and down to only 80,000 plants per acre.

His Observation

“The higher the population, the farther apart the nodes,” he says. “The…

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