My time writing No-Till Notes will be coming to an end in the near future, so I’m sharing with you some of what I consider to be the most important aspects of no-till crop production in our area.
The Panhandle No-Till Partnership will continue to provide no-till educational events, including field days and winter conferences.
Here is Tip #1 of 10 Tips for successful no-till production that I’d like to share with you: Choosing the proper crop rotation.
This is the most important decision you will make on your farm, as it will directly affect your bottom line, weed and disease cycles, and how your farm and soil will perform well into the future.
Variety is Best
We’ve spent the past 20-plus years developing a crop rotation that fits our semi-arid climate and growing season. We’ve changed the crops we grow in this rotation, but have based the majority of the rotation on a cool-season grass (winter wheat) a warm-season grass (corn) and a cool-season legume (peas).
I think there are some important considerations when you design your crop rotation. On dryland acres I think the biggest challenge is developing a crop rotation that fully utilizes the moisture you can expect to receive, and produce profitable crops with this moisture.
The rotation must also include at least two-thirds high-residue crops. Producing enough biomass or carbon in the rotation is critical.
You have to design a rotation with enough intensity that occasionally fails during the dry years, so that during the normal and above-normal rainfall growing seasons you have good success in utilizing the moisture you receive. The key point is to not fail too often.
I also believe we have to have a fallow period before planting the next crop. We found that trying to produce winter wheat without some fallow period prior to seeding our winter wheat lowers our winter wheat yields.
Residue is Crucial
I think we need to produce as good of a winter wheat crop as possible to succeed in continuous no-till crop production in our growing environment.
Winter wheat really produces the residue that is required to make the whole rotation succeed. Field peas are the best crop I’ve found to grow prior to winter wheat to give us a fallow period prior to winter wheat seeding.
The continuous-cropping rotation that we’ve been using for the past several years on our dryland acres has been winter wheat, corn and field peas. I think this has been good, with two-thirds of our rotation being high-residue crops with the winter wheat and corn. High-residue crops add carbon into the system, which is critical to improving soil performance and protecting the soil surface.
I also think this rotation works because two-thirds of it needs moisture to produce grain in the same time frame that we generally have our wettest months — April, May and June. The field peas and winter wheat require moisture for grain production during these months.
The dryland corn takes advantage of any summer precipitation we may receive and can produce high yields if we receive normal or above-normal rainfall in July and August. Dryland corn can also fail when the summer rains don’t come, which happens somewhat frequently. Dryland corn production is definitely the most inconsistent part of our crop rotation.
I think proso millet would be a good substitute for dryland corn in this rotation. Proso millet doesn’t require additional equipment to produce. Winter wheat, proso millet and field peas can all be produced with the same equipment.
This rotation of a cool-season grass with winter wheat, a cool-season legume with the field peas, and a warm-season grass with the corn or proso millet is a good rotation for our area for grain production farms.
This rotation provides enough diversity that weed and disease problems that can occur in mono culture production aren’t much problem with this diverse rotation.
Next time I’ll discuss what I would like to change with the rotation on our farm, and also look at some of the other key tips I see for continuous no till crop production in our area.