No-Till Improves Clay Texture, Boosts Yields

The real key with heavy clay soils is not trying to no-till when the soil is too wet.

When Roger Hilliard started no-tilling 15 years ago, he did it out of necessity.

Since established farmers were already cropping most of the area’s productive land, the Oxford, Wis., farmer ended up renting land that was stony and hilly.

“I forced myself to no-till effectively so I wouldn’t have to pick stones and could keep any resulting erosion under control,” he says. “Since I was also very interested in conservation, no-till fit well with my ideas.”

Using a 6-row Kinze no-till planter for 30-inch wide rows, Hilliard no-tills 300 acres of corn and 300 acres of soybeans along with 200 acres of hay that is worked into the rotations. He also does no-till custom work and manages a farmer owned and operated processing plant that processes 2,500 acres of soybeans each year into livestock and pet feed products.

With heavy clay soils, area farmers are convinced that a combination of fall and spring tillage is essential to dry out and warm these soils prior to planting.

With his highly erodible Kewanee soils, Hilliard needs at least a 70-percent residue cover for government program eligibility. “You can’t do any tillage on this heavy clay ground that washes very easily and is highly erodible,” he says.

No-Till Takes Time

To get started with no-till, Hilliard received $18 per acre in cost-sharing benefits for 3 years. “Without the 3 years of cost-sharing, I’d probably have given up on no-till after the first year,” he says.

“No-tilling that first year with a conventional planter…

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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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