No reason to go back to conventional tillage system

Jimmy Kinder, Walters, Okla., wheat farmer, tried a 25-acre field of no-till in 1994.

“In 1999, we were 100 percent no-till,” Kinder said at the No-till Oklahoma Conference in Oklahoma City.

Kinder farms some 5,000 acres of wheat with his father and brother and have typically raised “dual-purpose wheat” for grazing and grain. “But three years ago, wheat prices went up and we raised more for grain.”

He said they have not put a plow in the field since 1999. “If we plow just one time we set the clock back and lose 10 years of progress. I can’t see anything that would make me go back.”

Kinder has tried other crops in no-till systems, “milo, corn, Sudan, cowpeas, soybeans and sunflowers, with varying degrees of success.”

Weeds can be a concern.

So can fertility, but he said farmers may apply too much nitrogen as often as they apply too little. He’s used a Green Seeker monitoring device, along with N-rich strips, for five years to determine in-season nitrogen needs. Readings from that combination allowed him to apply fertilizer to 21 percent of his acreage in 2004, 61 percent in 2005, 38 percent in 2006, 100 percent in 2007, and back down to 52 percent in 2008.

“New technology speaks volumes about savings potential." The time it takes to install and monitor the N-rich strips is easy to justify, he said. “It takes eight hours to put in N-rich strips and it takes eight hours to read them. That’s just 80 hours over five years.”

He figures he saved as much as $384,000 on fertilizer over that time. “I don’t know where the money went, but at least I didn’t have to borrow that much." On an hourly basis, the technology is worth about $4,800 an hour. “That’s how technology works for us, and a hand-held Green Seeker costs about $4,500.”

Kinder said Oklahoma wheat farmers have watched yields decrease over the past few years. “The five-year average yield is down since 2000 to about 30 bushels per acre. What we’re doing is not working. We’ve tilled the soil so much it’s not releasing nitrogen. We’re farming our soil worse than our grandfathers did.”

Kinder said if farms always got enough rain they might not need to no-till. Percentage of Oklahoma farmland in no-till production remains low, he said. “We need to do some unconventional thinking to solve problems. We assume that plants need a plow, but they grew for millions of years without plowing. What sense does it make to use a plow to prevent a plow pan? And why would native pasture not need plowing while cropland does?”

He said some folks believe their grandfathers didn’t change. “But they did. They adapted mechanization, hybrids and chemicals.”

“We need to solve our problems by thinking around them."

email: [email protected]

TAGS: Management
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