No Till Notes - “Harvest”

By Mark Watson, Panhandle No-Till Educator

I’d like to revisit last week’s article on the wind erosion on our farm. I’ve had plenty of time to think about my management decisions that caused the problem in the first place. I’ve had plenty of time to survey the situation and contemplate as I am stripping these fields with a chisel plow that we adapted to rough up the soil surface without damaging the wheat too extensively.

We actually have a good stand of wheat despite my poor management thanks to a timely snow and rain which supplied enough moisture to get our wheat crop established. If we can keep further wind erosion from occurring in these fields, we have a good chance of producing a good wheat crop provided Mother Nature cooperates during the growing season. Next year following winter wheat harvest we will rent a rotary harrow to help smooth the ridges left from our stripping of these fields for wind erosion control.

Looking back at our harvest method I felt perhaps a stripper head rather than a flex head would have helped keep the residues intact and we could have avoided the residue removal from the fields by strong winds. I think another good option would have been to use a hoe drill for seeding the wheat rather than a disc drill. The hoe drill would have left a good ridge behind after seeding the wheat crop. A hoe drill would have also packed some of the residues into the soil. We’ll learn from our mistakes and make better management decisions if we are faced with a similar situation of too dry to germinate our winter wheat crop following this hard lesson.

I wanted to visit with you about this fall’s harvest season. As usual this past year offered some difficult challenges in production agriculture. On our farm we dealt with almost every challenge Mother Nature could throw at us from flooding, late spring freezing temperatures, hail, drought, unrelenting heat, and hurricane force winds. Despite all the difficulties, we had a pretty good year and raised some good crops for harvest.

With the extreme heat and dry conditions this past summer I fear our groundwater resource really was pumped way beyond a sustainable level. I suspect when our Natural Resources Districts take their well meter readings this fall we will find out how much damage was done to our groundwater resource.

I really hope when producers gather around the local coffee shops this year and talk about their harvest yields some consideration will be given to how they obtained those yields. There were some tremendous yields this year with some of the crops, but at what expense were these crops grown? Can we still produce these types of yields in the future and maintain our groundwater resource?

I think we can if we adopt more conservation management practices such as no till crop production systems on our irrigated acres. No till crop production systems will allow us to produce profitable high yielding crops and maintain our most valuable resource which is the water that we pump on our crops.

Without this valuable water resource our yields would have been much lower and the profitability of our farms dramatically reduced. A short visit about yields with a dry land crop producer or an irrigated producer whose well began pumping air will tell a somber story about trying to produce crops in our semi-arid climate when the rains don’t fall and the wells start to fail. Through good conservation practices and soil moisture monitoring during the growing season we can reduce groundwater pumping and ensure this resource is available for generations to come.

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