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Thursday, April 2, 2015

#TBT No Till

Even my non farmer friends can tell a difference in farming driving through the countryside.  Many farmers have changed to a system known as No Till Farming.  Even I remember my dad pulling a plow through the fields.  A variation of a plow has been used for 100’s of years to turn the soil.  Often going as deep as 18 inches.  It is no wonder that fellow consumers have questions about how farming as changed over the generations. 

Getting to no till farming was a bit of a progression.  Farmers saw that with tillage (discing, plowing, and turning the soil)  we were losing soil.  Soil has a natural structure that develops over time thanks to roots, worms and microbes.  When the soil from below is brought to the top, it destroys that structure, their home and the living beings that live there thus the population must start again.  When we get a big rain like we often do in the Spring and even Summer, soil would "runoff" the field into the streams and rivers nearby because that structure is not there to hold it in place.

No Till farming leaves the soil undisturbed and we plant right into the mulch left from last year’s crop.  We have noticed that some weed seeds just lie on top of the soil and never germinate.  Seeds need good seed to soil contact and if they are laying on top of the soil they don’t have total contact with the soil.

The mulch from last year's crop protects the soil from direct contact with the raindrops.  When raindrops (or hail like last week) hit the soil it dislodges small particles of soil and lets them leave the field in the water suspension. 

Photo Credit to: Soil Erosion Site  Check this site out for more information on erosion.
Having the mulch on top of the soil lets the rain drops hit the plant material and then run into the soil.  The mulch also acts as little barricades all over the field to slow down the water and let the soil settle back out.   After a big rain, you can see little dams that have dirt backed up behind them.  That is soil we didn't lose out of the field.

The mulch left on top of the soil also acts as an insulating blanket to stabilize the soil temperature and moisture.  The microbes in the soil like to have an environment that doesn't change drastically from day to day.  The mulch traps moisture trying to escape the soil through evaporation and helps us grow crops with less water.

The thing I like about No Till farming is that we use less diesel fuel which is better for the environment as well as my checking account balance.  This is certainly one place where we use less labor as well.  A farm our size that tills all the ground ahead of the planter would have to have at least 1-2 more employees just to drive tractors.

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