Our major steps toward healthy soil

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Our major steps toward healthy soil

Post by Bio Farmer on Wed May 17, 2017 7:10 am

1970s through 2005: As with most farms in the area we were dependant on heavy tillage every year. With the exception of our sugar beet fields that were tilled in the fall, most of the major tillage happened in the spring after we spent the winter hauling cow manure from the neighboring dairy by the thousands of tons. Fertilizer came from town, weeds were a constant fight, and no matter how much we irritated, crops always looked dry in the summer.

2001: We were able to put in an overhead sprinkler system on about half the farm to get away from 100% gravity Irrigation. It took us a long time to understand the new irrigation technique and the new possibilities it presented. We will cover the benefits later as we became enlightened.

2005-2013:  The first major shift was largely forced upon us: the dairy moved to Iowa. With the facility sitting idle for a couple years then new management that kept all its manure we were cut out of our precious nutrient supply. At first we were very concerned but looking back now 12 years later it was a wonderful event.

We always thought the thousands of pounds of manure we hauled per acre were providing us with nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, micronutrients, and carbon. As we learned later P and K were the only nutrients we really gained (soil tests now run 35 ppm P and 700 ppm K). The downside to manure was a steady supply of weed seeds and reduced soil health from the excess tillage.

As a consequence of not waiting to till fields until the manure was applied, we began tilling and bedding more fields in the fall. Also, without the need to bury manure, the type of primary tillage changed from moldboard and chisel plowing to chisel plowing and ripping. These two changes began to show benefits very quickly. At planting time, our seedbeds were moist, loose, and clod-free compared to dry, compacted, cloddy beds in spring-worked fields.

Water management was a major challenge. Our soils still had poor profile so it was hard to get water to soak in then the crop was stressed before we could get back to it. Conditions were basically the same on sprinkler and gravity fields.

2013: We got the chance to see a planter near Fruitland set up to no-till corn. The field had been corn the previous year, recently leveled, and very dry on account of the weather. Despite these harsh conditions, the planter was doing well and I thought "If this works, surely I can no-till in good conditions." Thus my real journey began.


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