This is the final article in the series of four on no-till cropping systems. Previous articles discussed the benefits of no-till, preparing to no-till, and manure in a no-till system. This article will discuss some of the common problems and what to expect when starting a no-till system.
Weed control is an important topic regardless of tillage. It becomes critical in a no-till situation that the weeds are identified and the proper herbicides are used. Getting a good weed kill prior to planting is important. By starting out with the right weed control, some of the common weeds in long term no-till such as sumac trees and poison ivy can be prevented. There is no reason to have weedy fields if you are no-tilling because herbicide formulations have advanced to control any weed.
Choosing a seed variety that performs well under no-till conditions is important. Your seed dealer should be able to help you find the variety that will work best for you. Penn State Cooperative Extension has results from their yield trials that can be valuable when selecting a variety since they do some no-tilled trials.
There are a variety of potential problems to address at planting time. As you start to plant, check seed depth so you know how the planter/drill is working in actual field conditions. Check the pressure on the closing wheels to make sure the seed is properly covered. On the coulters, check for hairpinning of residue. This is when the residue is pulled down into the seed trench instead of being cut by the coulters. Hairpinning results in poor stand establishment because many of the seeds have poor soil contact. Also check your row cleaners to be sure they are working properly. Most importantly, plant when the field conditions are right. The temptation with no-till is to plant when the ground is too wet. Just because you aren’t making ruts, doesn’t mean you aren’t causing compaction or that the ground is fit for planting.
Once the stand is established, regular, weekly crop scouting for pests is necessary, regardless of how you planted. Slugs are more prevalent in no-till corn and can cause significant damage in cool years. Slugs and other pests can establish large populations quickly and once they are established, it is difficult to minimize damage. Walk into the field at several places and examine for pests or damage. If you can see the damage from your truck, it has probably already affected your yields. Once you are aware of a pest, you can determine if treatment is necessary.
The first five years of conversion to no-till are the most challenging. Generally, yields are two to five bushels lower than your old tillage yields the first few years. This is because the biological activity in the soil is almost nonexistent and builds over time. The first few years you are establishing a no-till system that will increase your organic matter and the amount of biological activity. As the organic matter and biological activity increases, you will see the benefits of a no-till system and your yields will rebound. Establishing the system takes time, so be patient. Your soils have become “addicted to tillage” and will need some time to recover.
This concludes our series on no-till. Previous articles discussed the benefits of no-till, preparing to no-till, and manure in a no-till system. Hope you found these articles informative and good luck no-tilling!