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June 28 Field Day at Willford Farm near Harmony highlights benefits of no-till

Fri, Jan 18th, 2013
Posted in All Agriculture

Bob Joachim, NRCS District Conservationist

A No-Till Field Day held at the Arden and Travis Willford farm southeast of Harmony on June 28th was very well attended with over 50 farmers and resource people in attendance. The Fillmore Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) in cooperation with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) sponsored the event. Guest speakers, a no-till farmer panel, and in-field demonstrations of soil quality highlighted the field day.

Three guest speakers provided information on fertility, seed genetics, and economics as it relates to No-Till. Jim Fasching, soils consultant with Mid-West Labs of Plainview, MN, instructed attendees on the importance of soil amendments and their placement in the No-Till farming system. Of particular concern were pH balance and the need to address the availability of trace elements to enhance the transition to improved soil quality in the no-till environment. Nick Heronimous of Syngenta Seed of Rochester, Minnesota explained the importance of seed selection as it relates to no-till farming and provided some examples of how seed technology has led to improved performance and pest resistance. Finally Gary Thome, economist and instructor at Riverland College in Austin, Minnesota summarized ten years of economic data on no-till vs. conventional tillage. His findings showed a very minimal advantage to conventional tillage (less than $5 per acre), and concluded that these figures did not include long term losses of soil productivity or off-site damage from soil erosion with conventional tillage which can be difficult to quantify.

Travis Willford was joined by Rick Christianson and John Bruihler, in a panel of local no-till farmers discussing their no-till operations. They explained how they made the transition to no-till, and gave advice to operators wanting to make the transition. The consensus of the group was summarized by Travis Willford “that anyone could make the transition to no-till if they want to make the system work.” They all agreed that their economic bottom line was at least as good as conventional tillage, and that the reduction in soil loss, sustained soil productivity, and improvements to overall soil quality were benefits that are very real, but often difficult to quantify in dollars and cents.

Peter Hartman, NRCS soil scientist, conducted water infiltration tests on Willford’s no-till field and on an adjacent conventionally tilled field. Both fields were corn following corn and were planted within a couple days of each other. The infiltration tests showed that the no-tilled field was able to absorb one inch of surface water in one minute and 15 seconds. The conventionally tilled field took six minutes to absorb the same one inch of water. Peter Hartman explained that “This can be attributed to the macro-pores found in continuous no-till which allows water and air to move through the soil. The advantages to no-till on a hot, droughty year such as we had last summer should be obvious,” and this was evident as the attendees viewed the two fields side by side. The no-till field was dark green and showed no drought stress while the conventionally tilled field was lighter in color with the leaves curled up in stress. Moisture and temperature tests done two weeks later on these fields showed higher moisture content (12.1 percent to 11.7 percent) and lower soil temperatures (69 degrees vs. 75 degrees) on the no-till, as well as a noticeable height advantage in the no-tilled field. Yield monitors showed an average of 173 bu. corn yield on Travis’ 17 acre no-tilled field this fall with average moisture of 20.1 percent.

The day concluded with a hot lunch cooked up by the Fillmore County Pork Producers and informal discussions among attendees while viewing Willford’s no-till equipment. Bob Joachim, NRCS District Conservationist for Fillmore County, summarized the day like this, “The no-till field day was a great opportunity for farmers to talk about no-till and compare their experiences. Farmers learn best from their interactions with other farmers. Our objective is for the local Soil and Water Conservation District, in partnership with NRCS, to continue to provide opportunities for farmers to see firsthand how conservation systems can work on their farms and to network with other farmers who are already successful in using these systems.”

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