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Rethink Your No-Till Fertility!

Here’s why it may be impossible to take a precise soil sample out of a no-till field.

It&Rsquo;s time for no-tillers to stop trying to create the perfect soil and concentrate instead on the plants themselves, maintains Hollis Waldon.

The researcher at the University of California-Santa Cruz says there are advantages to banded, seed row and foliar fertilizer applications over building up general soil fertility. But there are no easy answers.

“There has been a general objective to bring soils to universal standards in terms of specific values of mineral nutrient content and availability, pH, cation exchange capacity, cation balances, structure, organic matter and water flow,” he says. “But the idea that we can make perfect farms with management to match some ideal farm in Illinois or Iowa is a fallacy.”

Forget About Perfection

“If you have perfect soil structure and conditions, consider yourself lucky. Most of us have to work with less than perfection.”

Farming systems stabilize over the years because of the great number and intensity of physical, chemical, biological and environmental factors all pushing and pulling at the same time. It takes a lot of effort and input to change that system, says Waldon. Moreover, trying to directionally change those factors is usually impractical, uneconomical and often impossible.

Farmers must develop ways to raise crops without perfect soils without relying so heavily on soil tests and, to a lesser degree, tissue tests. Data from these tests alone cannot provide a reliable fertility program, he says, citing university studies that have shown crop response does not correlate with soil testing.

But government regulators from the…

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