If high grain prices have you thinking about shifting Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) pasture or hay ground back into more lucrative crop production, don’t think you have to revert to tillage to make the transition. No-tillers across the country have found it’s not that difficult to get grass fields back into production without tillage.

Jim Nollmeyer of Reardan, Wash., has successfully no-tilled winter canola into CRP ground. “The most important thing to remember is to treat the operation as a complete system just like with any crop,” he says. “You’ll need to control pre-seed growth, manage the aboveground residue, optimize moisture and fertility, use good-quality seed and do everything you can to put the seed where it needs to be.”

When seeding, Nollmeyer says you must get out of the tractor cab frequently to make sure there’s good seed-to-soil contact. This is particularly critical when no-tilling in heavy residue.

While decaying sod and a buildup of thick thatch won’t automatically provide an ideal seedbed, he sees significant benefits with no-till compared to using tillage.

Plan Ahead

Rick Taillieu says the first step in making the decision to no-till into sod is to recognize that not all field conditions are created equal. The agronomist with RT Linkages in Olds, Alberta, says this means checking the condition of the sod, knowing what grass and weed species are present, deciding on which herbicides to use, evaluating fertility levels and determining what seeding equipment to use.

He urges no-tillers not to expect quick miracles, as no-tilling into sod often appears rough with uneven emergence. Even so, Taillieu is convinced that first-year no-till yields in sod may be equal to or be even higher than no-tilling into more typical stubble fields.

Taillieu says making a pre-seeding assessment of sod ground is critical.

“Using a shovel, examine the sod in several areas of the field,” he says. “It’s important to assess the thatch layer that you will be seeding into as it may impact your decision as to what crop to grow.”

He recommends that growers avoid no-tilling the wrong crop just because they want to use more glyphosate to kill the sod.

Total Systems Approach

Taillieu says it’s essential that you follow a full systems approach when no-tilling into sod, as each step will have a direct impact on all other aspects of the overall package. If you try to cheat the system by taking a shortcut, you can easily turn a promising opportunity into disappointing results, he says.

One thing is for sure: no-tilling into sod can definitely work, but you’ll need to pay close attention to every critical step in the management process to guarantee good results.

 For more details on no-tilling into CRP ground, check out “11 Tips For No-Tilling CRP Ground” from the March 2008 issue of No-Till Farmer. In this article, New Zealand equipment researcher John Baker shares key steps for successfully no-tilling into sod.