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No-tillers are busy in the fall harvesting their crops and applying fertilizer and may have little time for anything else before winter sets in. However, fall really is a good time to evaluate fields and assess the soil’s physical, chemical and biological conditions.
For the last couple years I have advocated that farmers need to farm their soils as well as their crops. It seems that for a long time, farmers mostly viewed the soil as an inert medium to drive on, add fertilizer and water to and place seed in, rather than a living entity that needs to be fed and groomed just like the crop.
However, the adoption of no-till and cover crops and the recent, growing interest in soil health has showcased that farming the soil is equally as important as farming the crop.
I’d like to share an anecdotal observation I experienced on our family farm. I purchased 80 acres from an uncle over a decade ago and immediately set out to improve soil tilth. It was the poorest performing field on the farm, but after a decade it’s now near the top.
This field changed dramatically because I paid attention to the soil and improving its health. Today, that soil is soft, crumbly and biologically active. But what’s most interesting is the yield variability has essentially disappeared. The soil texture and soil-test nutrient levels are still variable, but the yield isn’t. Somehow, my effort to optimize soil health reduced yield variability while…