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If you think Dwayne Beck could have written the book on no-till rotations, you’re right, and he has. Beck manages the Dakota Lakes Research Farm near Pierre, S.D., and helped this writer stay on track while preparing this three-part series on South Dakota no-till innovators.
Q: A lot of your research at the Dakota Lakes Research Farm and ensuing research papers reach the general conclusion that: “Any discussion of no-till systems begins with rotation and ends with rotation.” Your challenge is to give us a 200- to 250-word summary of this principle.
A: Crop rotation, or more correctly cropping diversity, is one of the most powerful tools available to a land manager. When we began no-tilling, the approach being used by others in the field was to substitute technology for the tillage they used in their conventional system while changing little else.
By technology, we mean pesticides and — to a lesser extent — new machinery. We felt that trying to use technology alone to replace tillage would not work successfully long term because there was either not enough technology available, it was too expensive or it would create problems (resistant weeds and insects, public acceptance concerns, environmental issues, etc.)
Consequently, our approach was to use other cultural practices (crop sanitation, rotation and competition) as our main replacements for tillage. Technology is part of these cultural practices but only a part. Rotations have triggered the most publicity, but the other cultural practices are equally important.
The real emphasis is on…
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