Even though no-till isn’t the norm in his area, Barry Evans has been faithfully notilling his wheat, grain sorghum and cotton crops near Kress, Texas, for 14 years.
Mother Nature hasn’t repaid him kindly of late. A lack of rain again this year has made it difficult for Evans to grow enough cover to protect his fields from the baking sun and high winds.
Mercifully, some areas of western Texas got up to 5 inches of rain last weekend and more was possibly on the way, so farmers will hopefully have some moisture to work with. “I really do feel fortunate,” says Evans, who finished no-tilling cotton last week.
The bad news is the rain didn’t fall everywhere, and drought conditions still linger. There’s a chance this pattern toward, hot dry weather in the southern Plains will continue into the foreseeable future, says a new federal report issued this month.
The effects of the current drought can already be seen. Oklahoma’s wheat crop could be half of the 120 to 140 million bushels it normally produces, experts say, so the drought in wheat country will have a significant economic impact on local and state economies.
But Evans can still point to some positives from no-till. He’s seen an 80% decrease in fuel use and elimination of larger-horsepower tractors. Evans says he now averages about 0.3 hours per acre on his tractor, “and those aren’t high-fuel-consumption hours,” he says.
“I see lots of earthworms and a much increased water-infiltration rate, and less baking of the soil behind the planter.”
Mother Nature holds the cards in this highstakes game called farming. And it’s clear that farmers cannot plow or irrigate their way out of this situation, as the dust storms and declining state of the Ogallala aquifer prove out.
Asking no-till practices to compensate for the effects of a severe drought is probably asking too much. But no-till will help farmers get the most from the rain that does come, and keep it in the soil longer.