ADDING ACRES. Since adopting no-till, Jim and Nathan Williams can handle additional acres with no additional resources. The father-and-son team raises 6,500 lambs, graze 2,000 replacement ewe lambs, finish 250 beef heifers and grow nine different crops.
It was evident that Jim and Nathan Williams were pounding their soil to death to achieve a good seedbed.
The father-and-son team in Masteron, New Zealand, had a tillage program that was primarily moldboard plowing, running a Cambridge roller, power harrowing three times, drilling and then rolling their fields once — sometimes even twice — after seeding.
“The time had come to modify or completely change the process,” Jim says. “It was evident that we were pounding our silt loam, bottom ground and the clay loam soils on undulating terrain to death to achieve a good seedbed.
So the two decided to park their extensive lineup of tillage equipment and moved to no-till by purchasing a Cross Slot drill. Since then, they’ve seen significant changes in their 450-acre operation, which is located in the southeast corner of the North Island.
Holding Soil and Moisture
Because they farm on the dry eastern coast where there is no irrigation, no-till helps them retain soil moisture, attain more versatility with an intensive grain, forage and grazing program, and increase fuel savings while reducing wear and tear on their no-till equipment. They’re also able to seed fall crops within days of harvest, or as soon as grazing is completed on turnip pastures.
Jim says they’ve seen improved germination and emergence by reducing seeding rates. In addition, they can handle additional acres with the same resources, resulting in higher profits.
Big Time Diversification
The Jim and Nathan Williams father-and-son team follows an extensive farming program in New Zealand that includes:
- Malting barley for brewing
- Annual ryegrass for seed
- Red and white clover grown for seed
- Feed and seed barley
- Plantain herbs
- Peas and turnips for grazing.
- Pasture crops cut as grass silage and marketed off the farm.
They also finish 250 beef heifers, 6,500 lambs and graze 2,000 replacement ewe lambs on a weight-gain basis for four area farmers each year.
“We’re able to raise more arable crops without the risk of soil erosion from flooding rains and wind,” Nathan says, who traveled to the United Kingdom and worked on farms there before returning home 8 years ago. “No-till also improves and maintains the soil structure, which helps renew pastures on a timely schedule and aids animal health in our livestock production program.
“The no-till system enhances our management capabilities and fits our farm to a T. If we were unable to use no-till, the operation would suffer and be turned upside down.”
Bottom Line Focus
Douglas Giles learned the ropes of custom work a world away from New Zealand’s North Island where he grew up. In the late 1990s, he worked in the U.S. with a summer grain harvest crew and ran a combine across the sprawling wheat fields of Kansas.
For Giles, it was timing and cost efficiency that pushed him into no-till.
In 1995, he started a custom planting business with a base of 1,850 acres. Today, he’s planting between 9,000 and 10,000 acres each spring and fall for more than 100 farm customers. This is in addition to no-tilling his own 400 acres where he raises malting barley, winter wheat, seed peas and harvests 20-25% high-moisture corn.
Giles began studying agronomic issues and figured the best solution to finish jobs in a timely, cost-efficient manner was by committing to no-till. His 29-opener Cross Slot drill pulled by a Case IH MX 305 Magnum tractor allows him to minimize crop failures, seed at speeds of 4.5-9 mph and cover a wide range of soil types.
He’s happy with how the machine handles the variable soils and conditions.
“It easily deals with all types of surface residue and I can also alter the down force on the slot while on the move,” Giles says. “For me, the bottom line is completing the job in a profitable manner. We’re able to unzip the soil surface, drop in the seed and have the confidence to move on.”
Low Disturbance is Key
While New Zealand growers still face challenges in handling planting and residue management, they are finding numerous advantages with low-disturbance no-till. systems.
In the mid 1990s, no-till was used by only about 4% of New Zealand farmers. This figure has grown over the years to around 25%, with about 20% of the total no-till acres being seeded with low-disturbance no-till systems.