9 Surefire Solutions to Challenging No-Till Problems

Renowned soil scientist Jill Clapperton explains how certain cover-crop species and other management practices can help resolve tough no-till problems.

ABOVE PHOTO: PICK PHACELIA. Jill Clapperton says if you have a sandy farm with poor soil aggregation, choose phacelia for its fine root system.

Cover crops have been touted for feeding soil biological life, halting erosion and promoting an overall healthy, sustainable no-till system. But in some situations, with the right species, cover crops can help resolve additional challenges no-tillers are looking to fix.

At the 23rd National No-Tillage Conference in Cincinnati last January, world-renowned soil scientist and Rhizoterra co-founder Jill Clapperton discussed which cover crop species, as well as other management options, can correct specific issues no-tillers may face.

Problem #1: Too much calcium, magnesium and phosphorus in soils.

Solution: Buckwheat.

Clapperton says buckwheat has really acidic root exudates, so it liberates some of the phosphorus and calcium out of the soil. It also attracts bees, making it a good crop for pollinators and beneficial insects.

Problem #2: A sandy farm with poor soil aggregation.

Solution: Phacelia.

“Let’s say you just took over a farm with really sandy soil and you need to reclaim it,” says Clapperton. “Phacelia is the first thing you’re going to pick. The fine root system will just aggregate that beautifully.”

She adds that in this case you’ll want a mix consisting of cereals, oilseeds (like sunflower) and that is heavy on legumes.

Problem #3: Root knot nematodes.

Solution: Avoid clovers, try sorghum sudangrass.

No-tillers who have a problem with root knot nematodes will want to stay away from clovers because they can be hosts…

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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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