Minimum tillage, no-till lead to more field options

Farmers practicing minimum till or no-till have significantly more options than just 10 years ago, John Bremer, Texas Extension Agronomist, told corn and sorghum producers at the seventh annual Conservation Tillage Conference held recently in Weslaco.

“And it's important to know what those options are,” he says.

Farmers try conservation tillage for reasons — to control erosion, conserve water or cut costs. Whatever the reason, he needs a plan.

“Since everything is new and a little different, it is important to get with an expert — someone who has been through the process. Then come up with a plan and stick to it.”

The first consideration is weed control. The key to success in minimum till in both corn and sorghum is post-emergence treatments. Since the farmer is not going to stir up the soil by tilling, many of the pre-emergence choices aren't applicable.

Bremer stressed terminating the previous crop on a timely basis.

“We're shooting ourselves in the foot if we don't terminate last season's crop, no matter what it was,” he said. Since one of the reasons farmers decide to go to no till is to conserve moisture, they don't want crops competing with seedlings for water.

Stubble and seedlings must be treated with chemicals. He cautioned growers to check labels to make sure they are using the right products.

For corn growers, he noted the importance of choosing the right seed for a specific soil and listed four new varieties, along with recommended herbicides:

“If you don't have morningglory, don't buy a chemical to control it.”

  • Clearfield (IMI), hybrid seed, not genetically modified.

    Recommended herbicide: Lightning, active on grass and broadleaves

  • Poast Protected, not genetically modified. Recommended herbicide: Poast, active on grass only.

  • Liberty Link, genetically engineered. Recommended herbicide: Liberty, non-selective, broad spectrum, use post-emergence.

  • Roundup Ready, genetically engineered. Recommended herbicide: Roundup Ultra, non-selective (technology fee required).

In deciding to use any of these high-tech varieties, the farmer should check the product directions to determine recommended crop sizes prior to chemical application.

Growers must analyze growing conditions, Bremer said. The more active the crop, the more active the weeds will be. Herbicides are more effective when weeds are small.

Bremer stressed the importance of reading the label to be sure the chemical chosen is the right one. “If you don't have morningglory, don't buy a chemical to control it. So, know your weeds.”

If a farmer is going to replant, he has to know what the replant restrictions are.

Bremer also suggested farmers consider compatibility with materials and equipment. Most chemicals today are fairly easy on equipment, but some harm certain types of plastic.

Farmers also must consider applicator safety and the environment. Bremer stressed the importance of cleaning out the tanks immediately. If the chemical is allowed to set up and harden, the tank is more difficult to clean. “Remember, even a small amount left in the tank can be harmful.

“We have the technology to do the job today. In fact, the technology is exploding. New chemicals on the market do a better job. Equipment, like sprayers, do a better job, too. All of this is making it easier for the minimum-till and no-till farmer to be successful.”

Some farmers are saying that conservation tillage is becoming necessary to stay in business. Growers are getting paid less for what they produce, but are paying more for fixed costs such as taxes, land, fuel, equipment repairs, and labor. Conservation tillage methods, by reducing trips across the field with expensive machinery, can help growers stay in business.

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