By Mark Watson, Panhandle No-Till Educator
The Panhandle No-till Partnership recently hosted field days at numerous farms across the Panhandle. I would like to thank the Nebraska Environmental Trust and the Nebraska No-till Cadre for providing financial support for these field days. I would also like to thank Curt Roth, Art Olsen, Pat and Mark Ernest, Stetson Shreve, and Steve Tucker for allowing us to tour their farms.
I’m very impressed with the quality of work the no-till crop producers are doing across the Panhandle. There are some outstanding no-till crop producers doing a first class job of producing no-till crops in our region.
A lot has changed over the past 20 years since we began using no-till crop production practices on our farm. If you have questions about no-till crop production there is someone right around the corner utilizing this production practice on their farm that you can visit with. When we first started we were alone on an island and now there are no-till crop producers throughout the Panhandle.
As I traveled throughout the Panhandle I was again reminded of the diverse farm operations and weather extremes we experience here in our region. There is a wide variety of farm operations specializing in grain production as well as integrating livestock into their operations. Each of these farm operations have specific needs that work well on their farm. The diversity of crops produced along with the diverse forages grown for grazing and haying make this region very special. This diversity of operations makes our methods of crop and forage production very interesting from an agronomic standpoint. I think this diversity also serves to stabilize the profitability of our operations over the long term.
No-till crop producers have really embraced the idea of adding diversity to their operations by including a legume like field peas in their rotations along with diverse mixtures of forages for grazing. Adding this diversity will improve the health of the soil over the long term. This diversity will stimulate improved populations and diversity of soil microorganisms within these soils. This added diversity will also aid in breaking up persistent weed and disease cycles and reduce the likelihood of developing resistance to herbicides on these farms and ranches.
In our region precipitation is always the limiting factor in how well our crops perform on our dry land acres. We are always hoping for a good rain and this year is no exception. As we traveled from the northern Panhandle to the southern Panhandle, the precipitation amounts dwindled as we headed south.
The northern Panhandle has received ample rainfall throughout the spring and early summer. The crops and grass in this part of the Panhandle looked superb. The field pea producers in the northern Panhandle are going to harvest an outstanding crop of field peas. Judging from the field pea fields I looked at I would guess the field peas will yield in the 40 bushels plus per acre range. Some of these fields may yield above 50 bushels per acre.
As you travel south the precipitation and yields begin to decline. I think our farm will produce a decent crop of field peas that will be in the 25-30 bushels per acre range. We were in good shape moisture wise until June when we fell about 1.7 inches short of normal precipitation. I think our field peas will be slightly below normal in yield this year.
The southern Panhandle has fared even worse than our farm for precipitation. The producers in this region did a great job of establishing their pea crops and have good weed control. The only thing lacking was the moisture although some producers received good rain during mid-June which may help their pea and winter wheat yields. It looked to me like a lot of these field pea fields would yield in the high teens to low twenties in bushels per acre.
I always enjoy being able to tour the Panhandle and reconnect with other no-till crop producers. I admire their attitude and willingness to develop different cropping practices that will improve the profitability of their farming operations. This attitude and willingness to adopt new cropping practices will lead their farms into the future as agricultural production practices in this region continue to develop.