Seeding Covers, Ending Tillage Guides Challenging No-Till Transition

For Keith Mayberry, cutting trips across the field and keeping soils covered has reduced his need for irrigation and slashed his farm’s annual fuel budget.

A perfect storm, of sorts, convinced Keith Mayberry it was time to change how he raised his crops.

Even though few growers in his area of southeastern Missouri were no-tilling, Mayberry was forced to look at the practice 5 years ago because grain prices were dropping and input costs continued to increase.

Costs for furrow irrigation were also high because poor soil conditions on his farm caused much of the water to run off into ditches.

“Cutting trips across the field — we were making five of them — was the only place left to look at,” he says, noting that so far no-till has cut his fuel requirements by 30%.

Overcoming Challenges

A fourth generation farmer, Mayberry no-tills a total of 6,800 acres that normally includes corn, soybeans, rice and cotton near Essex, Mo.

While his no-till has been successful overall, cold, wet conditions this spring caused his cotton crop to fail. He re-planted the acreage to soybeans and skipped planting corn for the first time ever due to low prices.

Mayberry says he saw some yield drag after no-tilling his first crops in 2012, although he notes it wasn’t just the practice but also weather issues interfering with spring nitrogen (N) applications.

By 2015 he was no-tilling almost 100% of his acres, but weather issues are still a problem he’s working to overcome. Cover crops are a staple now, but they take additional management.

“May was so cold and wet, it was detrimental to our crop production,” he…

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John Dobberstein

John Dobberstein is senior editor of No-Till Farmer magazine and the e-newsletter Dryland No-TillerHe previously covered agriculture for the Tulsa World and worked for daily newspapers in Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Joseph, Mich. He graduated with a B.A. in journalism and political science from Central Michigan University.

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