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Conservation Corner

Park that Plow: 5 Tips for the No- Till Curious

Wed, November 07, 2018

An excellent article by Elizabeth Creech, Natural Resources Conservation Service in Farming,  Conservation that I will share and add to for hunters and those with an interest in wildlife.

Reduced erosion. Saved time and fuel. Improved nutrient cycling, soil moisture, and resiliency in the face of drought. You likely already know the potential benefits of no-till.

Also keep unharvested scattered grain available on the soil surface for wildlife.

No-till farmers grow crops with minimal disturbance to their fields and the organisms that call them home. This builds healthier soils while reducing money spent on fuel and labor – a win-win.

With harvest season winding down, you’re no doubt making an important decision for your working land. Will you hook up the plow, or is this the year you’ll park it for good? If you’d like to try no-till, we wrote this for you.

Use these 5 tips to go from no-till-curious to no-till farmer.

1. Spread your residue during fall harvest.

Plowing isn’t the only way to prepare a field for next spring’s planting.

Evenly distribute residue that will be left in the field while harvesting your cash crop to manage against erosion and allow for a uniform breakdown of nutrients and organic matter. Residue can provide a valuable base of cover for your ground over winter.

2. Don’t forget about cover crops.

Farmers traditionally till to break up soil and prepare seedbeds. Over time, tillage can degrade structure and create highly compacted soils that seemingly “need” to be tilled before spring planting.

Plant cool-season cover crops to reduce compaction, build organic matter, and hold your soil in place. Make sure to pick a cover crop species or mix that compliments your cash crop.

If you’re starting with a highly-compacted field, use cover crop species that are meant to break up compaction. Daikon radish is often one great option.

Daikon radish – commonly called tillage radish – can break up plow pans while adding organic matter. 

For those interested in attracting wildlife to their farms, oats, radishes, turnips can be used as an attractant food source for deer and other wildlife. 

3. Choose equipment with your end-goal in mind.

Simple but critical: Plan before you buy.

Will you plant next year’s cash crop into green cover, terminated cover, or fall residue? Will you drill or broadcast your seeds?

Your operation may change over time, but establishing working goals now will keep you from buying equipment you don’t ultimately want.

Some USDA service centers have no-till drills and other equipment you can rent for minimal fees to get started. All offices are staffed with experts who’d be happy to talk through your specific management goals.

Think about how you’ll terminate your cover and plant your cash crop next spring. Using a roller crimper with a no-till drill is just one option.

4. Treat no-till adoption as a marathon, not a sprint. Track results along the way.

Building healthy, resilient soil takes time. Some farmers report yield increases after their first year of no-till, but that shouldn’t be your main goal.

You can quantify several economic benefits of switching to no-till: fuel savings, time savings, eventual fertilizer reductions. By tracking these measures along with changes in yield, you’ll gain a truer sense of the impact of no-till across your operation.

Have your soil tested at least once every four years and conduct your own informal assessments regularly. Healthy soils are full of living organisms.

Take note of the life inside of your soil, and how it changes over time. Healthy soils are generally full of earthworms and other organisms.

5. Give us a visit. We’re here to help.

Stop by your local service center to learn more about integrating no-till and other conservation practices into your management plan. We’re here to help you reach conservation goals that support your farm’s production needs.  Inquire about financial assistance available under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program EQIP and Conservation Stewardship Program to help with nutrient management, cover crops, no till strip till.







Cover Crops and Soil Moisture

Mon, November 05, 2018

No cropping system is drought proof, but there are ways to prepare for a dry year.

Watch this Science of Soil Health video to learn how cover crops affect soil moisture for the next year’s cash crop.

Cover crops such as turnips can attract wildlife such as deer.  My brother just informed me that the deer have destroyed all the turnips he planted at his farm. 




Five Questions Non-Operator Landowners Should Ask Their Farmers about Soil Health

Tue, October 09, 2018

A real good article came out that I would like to share with you.    I cannot post photos, so best to access through the link

Barry Fisher is a real good knowledgeable soil health expert.  If you ever get the opportunity to attend a workshop or field day of his, do not pass up that opportunity.

More than half of all cropland in the United States is rented. This means the person who owns the land – a non-operator landowner – is often separate from the farmer making daily management decisions that have long-term impacts on the land.

If you are one of those landowners, you may not be thinking about your soil and how it is managed. Your soil is your most valuable asset, and building soil health is a capital improvement. It is an investment – in your land’s long-term productivity and resiliency.

How can non-operator landowners and tenant farmers work together to build land that’s healthy, resilient, and productive?

Barry Fisher, an Indiana farmer and nationally-recognized soil health specialist with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, recommends that non-operator landowners ask their farming partners these five questions.

1. Do you build organic matter in the soil?

Organic matter – carbon – may be the most important indicator of a farm’s productivity. The amount of soil organic matter often determines the price farmers will pay to rent or buy land.

“Finding a farmer who is interested in building organic matter by using practices like no-till and cover crops is like finding a bank with a better rate on a Certificate of Deposit,” Fisher says.

2. Do you test the soil at least once every four years?

Optimizing fertility and pH levels is important to your farm’s productivity. Regular soil testing can give an indication of trends in soil fertility, pH, and levels of organic matter in a field. These tests help determine the amount of fertilizer each field needs and potentially saves money for farmers on fields with adequate or high fertility.

New soil tests that indicate active carbon levels and populations of important soil biology are also available to help monitor soil health. If a field has a history of manure application and very high fertility, for instance, a farmer could potentially plant cover crops to keep those nutrients in place rather than applying more nutrients that may not be needed.


Healthy soil generally looks dark, crumbly, and porous, and is home to earthworms and other organisms. Fisher recommends soil tests at least every four years to learn about factors you can’t necessarily see, such as pH and fertility.


3. Do you use no-till practices?

Some landowners like the look of a clean-tilled field in the springtime. But that “nice look” can be very short lived.

“The reality is, a field that has bare soil is subject to erosion and loss of organic matter since it no longer has the protective cover from the crop residue on the surface,” Fisher says. “No-till farming utilizes the crop residue to blanket the soil surface and protect it from the forces of intense rainfall and summer heat. This protective blanket will conserve moisture for the crop and prevent loss of soil from wind or water erosion.”

4. Do you plant cover crops?

Cover crops provide a green, protective blanket through the winter months or fallow times.

“The green-growing cover is collecting solar energy, putting down roots and providing habitat when the soil would otherwise be lifeless and barren,” says Fisher. “This habitat provides food and shelter for a broad population of wildlife above ground and beneficial organisms below ground.”

Cover crops hold onto nutrients left from the previous crop and release them to the next crop. The solar rays these plants collect are powering photosynthesis, taking in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to produce food for organisms living in the root zone. Cover crops also build nutrient-rich organic matter in the soil and improve the soil’s ability to take in water.


Cover crops can be used to reduce soil erosion, improve nutrient cycling, build soil organic matter, and improve the soil’s ability to take in water.

5. What can we do together to improve soil health on my land?

According to Fisher, the duration of the lease agreement is perhaps the most critical matter in encouraging the adoption of soil health management practices.

“Farmers can actually build the production capacity and resiliency of their landowner’s soil, but it may take several years to realize the full benefits of doing so,” Fisher says. He suggests that landowners consider multi-year leases to provide tenure security for the tenant. Longer tenures give both landowners and tenants more opportunities to improve soil health and benefit from the resulting production and profitability gains.

“Improving soil health can provide long-term, stable dividends for you, your family, and your farming partner,” Fisher says. “Improving soil health also can decrease the effects of flooding, make food production more resilient to weather extremes, and improve the health of water and wildlife.”

Fisher encourages landowners to learn more about the basics and benefits of soil health management systems and begin the soil health discussion with their farming partners right away.

“Whether you own or rent your land, everyone has a great stake in improving the health of our soils,” he says.

If you are interested in cover crops, no till incentives, or cost sharing for erosion control practices, contact your local NRCS field office.  IL NRCS obligated $16 million in EQIP funds in 2018 and we are seeking new applications to increase conservation on the land.  In addition to continuing to bring home more conservation dollars from Washington DC.


Adapted from an article posted by Elisa O’Halloran, Natural Resources Conservation Service in Farming,  Conservation Aug 29, 2018



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