While Idaho doesn’t top the list of no-till adoption in the U.S., it appears the mindset is beginning to change in some parts of the state.
Farmers growing corn, soybeans, wheat, barley and hay in the Mini-Cassia area in southern Idaho are experimenting with reduced tillage to cut water use, improve soil health and increase yields, the Twin Falls Times-News in Twin Falls reports.
The Minidoka County Soil and Water Conservation District in nearby Rupert recently presented county commissioners with a 5-year “resource conservation and business plan” that includes acquiring $100,000 in grant money to purchase two no-till drills. The district wants to rent the machines out to farmers to seed no-till test plots on their farms.
The conservation district is trying to convince farmers they can no-till their crops rather than discing the ground before planting. Some district board members worry too much tillage is loosening topsoil and leaving it vulnerable to blowing away during windstorms.
Minidoka County in south-central Idaho had 622 farms in 2012, most of them smaller than 500 acres, but the county is an important producer of barley, hay, sugarbeets, vegetables and small livestock, according to Census of Ag figures.
A 2006 report on the Lake Walcott watershed, which includes Minidoka County, says erosion from surface-irrigated row crops is a serious problem, with slopes more than 3% averaging 30 tons of soil erosion per acre each year. Soil loss from sugarbeets, soybeans and corn in this system can be as great as 51 to 89 tons per acre annually, the report states.
Conventional tillage in winter wheat-fallow or annual spring barley systems — in an area that may only see 10 to 22 inches of rain per year — results in less than 15% of residue left after planting.
Oakley, Idaho, farmer Nick Robison told the newspaper he had shifted away from no-tilling grains at one point so he could incorporate manure into fields, but he’s now no-tilling wheat and trying no-tilled corn by adding more down pressure on his planter to cut through crop residue.
Some farmers in the area believe no-till will work well in sandier soils to keep topsoil in place, although strip-till has become a popular option in fields with more clay in them — especially for corn.
Data from the 2012 Census of Agriculture shows only 8% of Idaho’s 5.8 million cropland acres is no-tilled, although the state has a diverse farm economy.
There is certainly a lot of work to do, but grassroots programs such as this probably represent the quickest way to educate farmers on the benefits of no-till practices.