No-Till, Covers and Livestock Tame Volatile Weather Challenges

Howling winds, dryness and poor soil quality create tough conditions in South Africa, but Egon Zunckel is making no-till work with limited irrigation, cover crops and livestock.

Pictured Above: FARMING A PLATEAU. Egon Zunckel no-tills roughly 5,000 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat on a wind-swept plateau in KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa. His no-till practices, along with planting cover crops and grazing beef livestock, have helped reduce soil erosion and increase moisture retention

MOTHER NATURE challenges all farmers, but for growers in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa, the extreme variances in weather conditions most often necessitates a decision to no-till for many producers like Egon Zunckel.

No-till adoption started in 1984, in a year of extreme drought. “We were on the bones of our backsides and we just had to do something to conserve moisture,” Zunckel says.

On an open plateau — at an elevation of about 4,000 feet — and facing the country’s Drakensberg Mountains, Zunckel farms a combined 5,000 acres, 100% of which is no-tilled. 

He does incorporate lime and nutrients per grid sampling results on a 4-year rotation. This is done with a chisel operation to leave residue on the surface, which is necessary because the farm is located in a high wind belt where surface-applied lime tends to be blown away.

Climate Dictates No-Till

In addition to the drought, a major shift toward conservation agriculture occurred in the country about 10-15 years ago, when fuel prices went to all-time highs, says Zunckel, who is active in South Africa’s no-till community. 

He estimates that now about 40% of South Africa’s growers are practicing some form of conservation farming.

“You could smell the corn’s

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Mark mcneely1

Mark McNeely

Mark McNeely is the former managing editor of No-Till Farmer and Conservation Tillage Guide magazines. His previous experience includes 25 years in industrial engine journalism and marketing. Mark holds an M.A. in journalism from the University of Wisconsin.

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