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