Justified Cultivation

Adapting tried-and-true no-till to include field cultivation ahead of planting soybeans helped Brent Arp’s earthworm populations rebound.

It's logical that no-till fields would have more earthworms because tillage isn’t breaking apart their homes. What’s illogical is how after 20 years of no-tillage, Brent Arp saw a sudden decline in earthworm populations.

Arp, who grows 1,200 acres of corn and soybeans near Blair, Neb., first noticed the problem in 1990.

“I don’t know if it was because of compaction, a series of wet springs, pesticide problems or what, but something was drastically decreasing earthworm populations,” says Arp, who started no-tilling in the late 1970s.

Without any clear answers, Arp decided to cultivate fields before planting soybeans. The worm populations have been on the rise ever since.

“The soil is a complex ecological system. There’s a lot we don’t know about it, yet,” says Arp. “It’s literally a living, breathing factory.

“I can’t explain it, but after we started doing some light tillage the worm populations started to come back.”

Soil Stewards

Arp farms a wide range of soils from heavy bottom land to light clay soils on upland terraces. He has found that no-till works best on his terraced ground.

“No-till provides a higher water-holding capacity and better erosion control,” he says. “No-tillers are truly stewards of the soil. It is a natural resource that we have to preserve.”

On terraced land, Arp field cultivates ahead of planting soybeans. Heavy river bottom land is sometimes disced in the fall if there’s no excess moisture present.

“Compaction is definitely a problem on river bottom ground,” he says. “It’s OK…

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