Get Digging, No-Tillers!

Resource soil scientist and geologist Roger Windhorn says no-tillers should get their hands dirty to find out what’s really going on in their soils.

There are thousands of different types of soils in the U.S., including 625 in Illinois alone. So for a no-tiller to really understand what they’re working with, it requires time in the ground, says Roger Windhorn.

The soil scientist and geologist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service told attendees at the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) Conservation In Action Tour that farmers “need to see what in the world they’ve got in their soil.”

That starts with examining the four components that exist in all soils: organic matter, mineral matter, air and water. The two components a no-tiller’s management decisions have the biggest effect on are air and water — otherwise known as the soil’s porosity.

For a good soil, it should have 50% porosity. The surface of the soil at Terry Bachtold’s cattle farm in Livingston Co., Ill., has a bulk density of about 1½% — which is 1½ grams of compaction per cubic centimeter — giving the soil about 45% to 50% porosity.

But 5 to 6 inches below that soil, the ground was more compact, and had a bulk density around 1.6 to 1.7. That gave the soil only about 30% porosity.

The reason the lower soil had a higher bulk density was because Bachtold used to do some minimum tillage. But because Bachtold took off his final corn crop 8 years ago…

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Laura Barrera

Laura Barrera is the former managing editor of No-Till Farmer and Conservation Tillage Guide magazines. Prior to joining No-Till Farmer, she served as an assistant editor for a greenhouse publication. Barrera holds a B.A. in magazine journalism from Ball State University.

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