No-till drill put to the test around county
The San Rafael Conservation District along with the NRCS took local farmers on a tour to observe the no-till drill fields.
Several farmers have used the no-till drill purchased by the conservation district last spring. Fields totaling 616 acres have been planted with alfalfa, triticale, wheat, rye, pasture grass, oats and barley. Dennis Worwood, Utah State Extension Agent for the county said he used the method to grow bedding for his pigs. He cut the oats and then sprayed with roundup for weed control. Weed control is a big issue in successfully using the no-drill method.
Roger Barton said he used the no-till drill on a field which had a lot of weeds. He planted it east and west and from north to south with eight pounds of seed to the acre. It developed into a pretty good stand in a short time.
The no-till drill method saves time and money for farmers. Time isn't put into plowing a field and also fuel is saved by not having to go over a field again and again.
The conservation district just ordered a grain cleaner so area farmers can clean and use their own seed. There are screens on a trailer and it can screen 620 bushels an hour.
The no-till drill cuts a slot in the ground for the seed.
The two no-till drills and trailers were purchased with grant money. Last spring Robert Newhall from the Utah State University spoke to area farmers concerning the benefits and also the pitfalls of the no-till drill method. Newhall said another name for no-till drilling is conservation tillage. This practice is 35-40 years old. What's new is the equipment available for no-till. The equipment is just one part of the system. No-till was originally developed for erosion control in areas where there is a lot of water. No-till saves time in the field and saves on fuel. It reduces wear on equipment. It improves soil quality. No-till captures drifting snow and gets more moisture into the soil. It can make irrigation water go farther and reduces soil erosion. Anytime you are using flood irrigation you are losing soil. When you till the ground you lose soil. Newhall stressed the fact, if you were having trouble with weeds before no-till, you will also have trouble with weeds using no-till. No-till will fail if there is no weed control prior to planting; if there is no weed control after planting; wrong weed control anytime; thinking no-till will fix past farm management problems; thinking no-till will solve all farm problems.
"Equipment won't solve all your problems. It's just a different process for getting seeds into the ground," said Newhall.
Newhall told farmers some advice on no-till: no-till requires more detail to what is happening in the field and why it is happening...more management; no-till is more than a planting system, it is a cropping system; no-till is not your current farming system, a different set of rules apply which may take time to learn and apply to your land and your management style; start small and watch, learn and practice; solve compaction problems before you start; solve soil fertility problems before you start; solve weed problems before you start; seeding is the easiest part of the system.
Newhall said, "It takes time to learn the system and everyone manages it differently, start small and learn. Don't start on your worst field or it will probably fail. Tilling ground destroys the soil structure. Take time to reform it into something that water will go down into. With no-till the structure of the soil will change over time, crusting will go away eventually. Learn from experience. Most of you will be using the drill for pasture. Utah is a high, dry, cold desert; you need to be realistic. Before starting over on a rundown field consider invigorating it with improved irrigation, soil fertilization, weed control and grazing management.
Newhall talked about pesky weeds and where they come from: seed bank in soil; irrigation water; off-site feed hay; bedding materials; wind borne-animal borne; seed mixtures.
Newhall said when no-till fails, 90 percent of the time it is from lack of weed management. Buy certified seed. Weed control is an ongoing problem. Weed problems must be addressed, it takes management, knowledge, judgment, experience, work, time, money, more work, time and money, to address issues with weeds. "Take the time to do it right," stressed Newhall. When it comes to fertilization you won't know how to do it right until you have your soil tested. You need a good soil sample.
A good maintained pasture can last 25-30 years. If you are going to take the time to plant a new pasture then take the time to do it right and maintain it. Have the soil analyzed to ensure adequate nutrition and to identify salinity concerns.
When controlling weeds it may be necessary for several applications of weed killer. Newhall said the pressure on the drill for the placement in depth of seed is very important, you need to know how deep the seeds you are planting need to be and adjust the pressure accordingly. If the pressure isn't adjusted properly the seed you intended to plant could be left lying on the surface of the soil. Select the right crop for the field. In the palatability spectrum, you must select varieties that grow well in your area and that are palatable to your cattle. Newhall mentioned he liked perennial ryegrass because once it starts it will reseed itself with next years crop. It is a short lived bunch grass, excellent palatability with low winter hardiness and adapts well to irrigated conditions.
The drill purchased by the conservation district has a packing system. A cut-slit is made which opens the ground and the seed is put in and packed down. Newhall recommends seeding in two directions. Sprinking is a great irrigation system for no-till. Newhall recommends a new pasture should not be grazed or trampled until the plants are well established from six-18 months.
Also, avoid using wet pastures. Haying the first crop after planting will aid in control of annual weeds. Avoid applying a herbicide to young plants. The first year of a new pasture will generally look rough. Management will make all the difference.
Another key to a good pasture is rotational grazing. Using a permanent perimeter fence; mobile cross fencing; drinking water in each paddock; begin grazing when the grass is seven inches tall; stop grazing when the grass is three inches tall; four week rest period between grazing; four or more paddocks is desirable; corral area adds flexibility to the rotation.
Newhall told of interseeding into an existing alfalfa stand which increased forage production. No-till is good for that. "You can do all kinds of things you probably never thought of with the no-till drill. We planted corn in the summer in Panguitch to supplement an alfalfa field. Once the cows figured out what it was, they harvested it," said Newhall.
One problem encountered with no-till is the application of fertilizer. You have to get creative said Newhall. Nitrate can be applied through the water, but phosphate and potassium need to get into the ground.
The double disc of this drill allows for better placement of seed.