Thursday, October 29, 2009

Harvesting the Profits - No Till in Kentucky

Phil Needham - Owensboro, Kentucky

LEFT: Kentucky along with the UK was once of the pioneering areas of No Till back in the 70's.

Phil Needham, a British expat has been working with the farmers in Kentucky and the US for the past 20 years. Phil originally came over as a specialist Wheat agronomist at a time when wheat was very much the cinderella crop for the US. To an extent this has remained so but advances in breeding, agronomy and crop management has meant that average yields in the Kentucky area have moved upwards of about 1 tonne per acre over the past 15 years.

Phil has also become an advocate of No Till for the potential of reducing costs and increasing timeliness. Not every farmer in Kentucky buys into the concept with plenty of them preferring to disc three or four times before planting wheat. There are however plenty of people in Kentucky who have been no till for twenty years surrounded by other farmers who insist it doesn't work!

What I noticed that was really different in speaking to farmers is that a lot of them liked to no till for corn (maize) and soybeans but were less keen on doing it for wheat. Preferring to disc for this. This to some extent is the opposite of the UK where most farmers percieve that for beans or maize tillage is a must whereas wheat is slightly hardier. My only conclusion is that you do what you do according to what everybody else does!

Spending time with Phil these are the key things I picked up:

  • Disc is best. Single disc is even better. Phil says that tines have more negatives inculding thsat they just move too much soil. He concedes that in the early stages of no till there are advantages to a tine but in the long term he finds discs are better. "So you may as well start with a disc, than buy two drills" he says.

  • Be concious of travelling on land. We walked through a field a farmer was no tilling wheat after soybeans into. He pointed out the wheel tracks and this is where the drill didn't place the seed as well. "It does get better over time" he said " but after harvest, sprayers, chaser bins, fertiliser spreaders etc you may traffic up to 80% of your field." Therefore you need to try and minimise this for greater success.

  • During may visit it was pretty wet. We noticed the tine seeders tended to pull up wet chunks which could not be consolidated on top of seed.

  • "What tillage does" says Phil " is give you lots of large soil pores. The reason you have those small pores in the first place is the tillage. you've broken down your old soil pores. It can take your four or five years to get the distribution you want in no till. And if you roll again you after till you are creating compaction of the future. Because compaction is a result of pressure plus soil characteristic. There is no evidence that deep tillage/ subsoiling makes a lot of difference in the longer term either."

Phil realises that a lot of time no till is not easy to adopt, he has even designed and released his own range of equipment to enhance seeding performance when drill design leaves more to be desired.

More on Phil Needham:

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