No Till Notes - “20 years of education, part 2”

By Mark Watson, Panhandle No-Till Educator

There was a gradual progression on our farm to adopting a no till cropping system. Our father passed on to us the value of conservation farming practices. He worked closely with University of Nebraska researchers and allowed them to do research on our farm studying stubble mulching practices and soil erosion on our farm.

We continued down this path of trying to leave more residues in the field in our winter wheat/ summer fallow rotation. Cheatgrass was always a problem, and at the time the best way to control this problem weed was to plow, which we did occasionally.

With the introduction of glyphosphate, Roundup herbicide, we found we could control volunteer winter wheat and cheatgrass much more effectively with one spraying than we could with multiple tillage passes, so we adopted Roundup technology and began spraying our fields early in the spring. We would follow this with tillage throughout the summer.

We then saw a neighbor with a Concord air seeder hoe drill and he was planting his winter wheat crop through some pretty heavy residues. We thought if we could plant through heavy residue and establish our winter wheat crop in this residue, there wasn’t much sense doing tillage. 

At this point we were doing chemical fallow, although there wasn’t really a name for it at the time. Cheatgrass was still a problem in this system, but we did have the benefit of residues in the field. Unfortunately this residue also carried disease more easily than tilling the residue, so there were still some drawbacks. 

It was around this time that I made my first of many trips to Dakota Lakes Research Farm near Pierre, South Dakota. Dr. Dwayne Beck had started his research on this farm a year or two earlier. Dr. Beck explained to the group I was with the advantages of no till crop production and the water savings this system provided. 

With proper crop rotation you could also control problem weeds and break up disease cycles. Many of the problems we had been battling with cheat grass and diseases could be solved with the adoption of no till. I came home, got my brothers Bruce and Paul, and we headed back to Dakota Lakes so they could learn for themselves about this new concept of no till crop production. We started adopting no till crop production the following year.

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