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What I've Learned From No-Tilling: Bucking The Tillage Trend In An Alpine Desert

No-till practices are saving Colorado grower Billy Burns’ soils, and even helping his fields recover from a tragic herbicide mistake.

Check The Specs...

NAME: Billy and Sadie Burns

LOCATION: Hooper, Colo.

YEARS NO-TILLING: 6

ACRES: 460

CROPS: Alfalfa, cereal rye, alfalfa-grass mix and mixed forage

As no-tillers we are definitely an oddity here in the highly productive San Luis Valley of Colorado. While we strive to keep our acres covered and undisturbed, the farmers surrounding us move masses of earth with every crop.

The San Luis Valley is truly unique. The sandy, pancake-flat alpine valley is surrounded by mountains on all sides and is situated at a lofty 8,000 feet.

There is a fascinating dichotomy in that we only get about 8 inches of moisture per year, making us a desert in every sense of the word. However, snowmelt charges a very shallow aquifer that allows for extensive irrigation throughout the valley.

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Every inch of the mineral-rich ground that is touched by water from countless center pivots produces beautiful, high- quality crops of potatoes, lettuce, carrots, malting barley, silage corn, hay and any other crop that will tolerate the short, cool growing season.

Our first killing frost is usually around September 10 and our last killing frost is expected around June 10. Where there is no irrigation, the land is bare dirt barely anchored here and there by greasewood or “chico brush.”

When the wind blows — and boy does it love to blow here — so does the soil. The high-value root crops require a lot of tillage both at planting and harvest, and when the fields aren’t actively…

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Martha Mintz

Contributing Editor

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