Balancing Soil Helps No-Till

Oconomowoc, Wis., no-tiller Robert Miller uses a biological farming system to balance the soil. Miller and his sons Luke and Nick no-till 3,600 acres of corn, soybeans and winter wheat. They use cover crops to build soil organic matter and gypsum to balance calcium and magnesium levels.

“Last year, we had crusting and used a rotary hoe to break the crust,” Nick Miller says.

After harvesting wheat, the Millers spread 1,000 pounds of gypsum and a ton of high-calcium lime per acre. They credit gypsum for loosening the soil and improving drainage.

Manure Works With No-Till

Corn yields were higher and phosphorus runoff and ammonia losses were lower in a USDA study of a machine that injects poultry litter or composted cattle manure while minimally disturbing the soil.

Dan Pote, a USDA scientist, invented the Subsurfer, which crushes litter and distributes it in soil trenches for precise control. The rig carries up to 5 tons of litter and simultaneously opens eight trenches 2 inches wide and 3 inches deep within 12 inches of each trench.

High-Yielding Crops Need Sulfur

Sulfur has become more important as a limiting nutrient in crop production, says Mike Stewart, International Plant Nutrition Institute soil scientist.

“The majority of sulfur in most soils is in organic matter, which must be mineralized before it can be taken up by crops,” Stewart says.

Sulfur is likely to be deficient in soils with less than 2% organic matter, in soils with sandy texture and good drainage and in high-rainfall…

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