Soil: Too wet? Too cold?

Gloria Hafemeister
Now Media Group


The term 'recreation tillage' pops up in more and more conversations among farmers in recent years, and when 200 farmers and crop consultants gathered in Wisconsin Dells during the Discovery Farms conference in December, no-till was the topic of many discussions both at the podium and on the meeting floor.

One reason most no-till farmers like the system is that it lowers the cost of production.

Fewer trips across the field with equipment result in less fuel used. Jason Cavadini, agronomist and assistant superintendent, Marshfield Agricultural Research Station, pointed out there are other benefits as well.

'The long-term no-till soil that is firm at the surface but takes in water readily is what we are really trying to achieve,' he said. 'What we see is that farmers, have, for years have been fighting the soil trying to make it do what they want it to do. Here in central Wisconsin, it's what do we do with the water, how do we get it to move off of the surface, how do we get it to drain better.

'If we can figure out a way to manage excess moisture or leave moisture, no-till is worthwhile.'

With help from Cavadini and others, a new group — Central Wisconsin No-Tillers — has been formed.

'A year ago, we had a planter that we were setting up here on the station with different combinations of no-till tools,' Cavadini said. 'We're trying to determine what the best set up is for our soils here. We decided to invite farmers after we finished planting in the spring to tell them what we found with our research planter.'

He said there was a lot of interest, and the group continued to grow.

Cavadini stressed the importance of setting up the no-till equipment properly in order to do the best job. That's where it is beneficial for farmers to share ideas and get out onto the farms to see what is working.

'We feel the closing wheel is the most important thing,' he said.

He presented the Marshfield results of research on several types of systems.

The row-by-row performance comparison of different no-till tool combinations across various planting conditions for two growing seasons revealed several factors.

The lead coulters can cause more damage than good when planting into moist conditions. Short floating row cleaners are ideal as opposed to longer floating or fixed types.

Down pressure must be adjusted frequently, and the most important tool is the closing wheel. Spikes with more surface area work the best.

Spring soil temperature monitoring

'It is often perceived that a major drawback of no-till is colder and wetter soil in spring,' Cavadini said. 'That's why we decided to monitor soil temperatures across various conditions in no-till and conventional systems.'

He said the study found that within 12 hours of planting, the in-row soil temperature at seed depth was consistently within one or two degrees of conventionally tilled fields.

Currently, the Marshfield researchers are looking at whether no-till builds overall health of soil. He pointed out that in a no-till system, manure can be applied earlier in spring than on a conventional field. It is also possible to re-enter a field earlier after a rainfall.

Winter cover crops can also be seeded successfully in late fall. Cover crops add to the diversity of the system and help build soil health, he said.

The research station looked at a production system that involves fall planting tricale as a cover crop and spring harvesting the triticale as forage followed by no-till planted soybeans.

'There is a big benefit to this system,' Cavadini said, 'because it gets a second crop out of limited acres and the triticale provides a high quality feed.'

After a year of the project, they found that cutting as a control measure for cover crops provides effective control while avoiding an additional herbicide application.

'There was no yield penalty for soybeans following triticale as compared to those following no cover crop, even with a shorter maturity,' he said.

Cavadini believes the establishment of the triticale added value to the entire system, and he likes the cover-crop no-till system better than using vertical tillage that he calls 'a crutch'.