Our cropping goal, at Fairmont Farm, is to be 100% no-till with cover crops, and we have nearly met this goal for a number of years now. However this year we were about 70% no-till with a cover, 15% no-till without a cover and 15% minimal tillage. Some of the reasons we have done more tillage this year were: repairing damage to fields from manure spreading in wet conditions, and field stacked manure from barns that are not compatible with our liquid system during the winter months. The reason for having some fields no-till without a cover is due to the late harvest last year, we ran out of time to get a cover crop planted on some of our later harvested fields. So, what is no-till and what are cover crops?
No-till is a type of conservation practice that we use in which we no longer till our fields up before we plant corn. Instead, the soil is left undisturbed and seeds are directly sewn into the existing vegetation. We pair our no-till planting with the use of cover crops. Cover crops are planted after the corn is harvested in the fall and are terminated after spring corn planting. By planting corn this way, we are simulating a natural ecosystem for the plants. The benefits include an overall increase in soil health, reduced soil erosion, reduced soil compaction, increase in yield, increase in nitrogen recycling, and increased ability to filter and retain water among many other benefits. From a management perspective, there are also significantly fewer inputs involved in this system including reduced time, money and fuel.
We currently crop about 3,600 acres, 1,500 of which are corn. Being able to get all of our corn planted in a timely manner, for our short growing season, with our small and rocky fields was one driving factor when we originally made the transition to a no-till cover cropping system. However since then, we have greatly appreciated all of the other benefits that are gained with this new system.
“Across the Fence” had a great episode on October 22, 2012, they interviewed Ray Archuleta from Natural Resource Conservation System (NRCS). In the video, Ray has a few demonstrations to show the difference in soil health between conventional land and no-till land. The no-till land naturally stays together, retaining nutrients and water, far superior to land that has been tilled. The impact this has on water quality is substantial. No-till soil is able to handle heavy rains without the worry of runoff from nutrients. This is because the root systems combined with earth worms and other living organisms aerate the soil and make room for the water while simultaneously creating a natural “glue” that keeps the soil intact. What do you see being sprayed after the corn is planted? The last part to a successful no-till and cover crop system is the termination of the cover crop so it does not compete with the productive crop. After the corn (Roundup Ready) is planted we use a Glyphosate (generic Roundup) based program to kill the cover crop. All of our spraying is done by Bourdeau Bros. Inc., a licensed, certified and reputable company. The above picture is a close up of the BIG spray rig, which is designed to be able to maneuver in between corn rows if the corn has already started coming up. In this picture the spray rig is getting a refill and the Glyphosate is being mixed up.
What is the result? The results for this new no-till and cover crop system is a win-win for farmers and for the environment. Farmers are able to use less inputs to produce a higher quality crop with increased yield much more efficiently, while conserving the natural ecosystem and preserving soil health and water quality!