CHATHAM, Ill. — No-till and minimal-tillage practices continue to increase in efforts to reduce costs and implement conservation practices.
“Being able to maintain and keep any sort of residue on a field would have been unheard of 40 years ago,” said Matt Montgomery, Pioneer field agronomist. “We would have seen the moldboard plow, the soil physically rolled over, and nothing but bare dirt.”
Montgomery was featured in an informational video standing near what remains of levee system constructed in a field in the early 20th century in order to protect the field from flood water. Through erosion the soil has built up to the top of the levee.
“At one time this location was the same depth on both sides of the levee. It filled in because growers in the early 20th century were trying to scratch an existence out of fields and had to make sure they started clean and stayed clean. They would completely roll the soil over, work it, work it, work it, and the consequences of that is the area surrounding levee is slowly, and some people would say actually rather rapidly, filled in behind the berm and it created a plateau region.
“That’s an incredible amount of soil. That’s the consequences of only having that one cultural control practice to manage weeds in the countryside; rolling the ground over resulted in an incredible amount of soil moving off-site.”
The benefits of reduced tillage include reduced fuel costs, reduced equipment wear and tear, reduced water quality concerns, reduced risk of nutrient loss, especially phosphorus, and exceptional reduction in soil loss.
In addition, the natural mulch in the field acts as a physical barrier, keeping moisture from leaving the field.
“So, maybe we could make the argument that it improves our efficiency when it comes to moisture in the field just a little bit more, but we’re very familiar with the idea that residue helps dissipate energy associated with water droplets so that it can’t wash away soil into lakes, rivers and streams,” Montgomery said.
“That’s important because we know soil conservation is important to begin with. It’s important because we know that we’re under microscope to a certain extent. People are watching to make sure that we’re maintaining nutrients in the field where they belong and not washing away into bodies of water.”
Soil conservation is also important for future generations of farmers.
“We may not have been handed our fields in great condition, but we want to ensure we’re handing off fields better to those generations coming after us,” Montgomery added.
“This is only possible, though, because we have this enormous toolbox of pesticide resources that gives us the opportunity to maintain productivity while not rolling the soil over.
“We talk about starting clean, staying clean. There’s only one way that happened in the past and that was physically working the ground, tearing up weeds, making sure we had a clean bed all through the season. Work the ground, work the ground, and work the ground. We wouldn’t be able to avoid doing that if it weren’t for the fact that we have pre-emerge chemistry, post-emerge chemistry, residuals, burndowns, all of those are tools that that make (reduced tillage) possible.”
While residue decreases the amount of moisture evaporating and increases the amount of moisture available to the crop, it also provides an environment for spore production from fungi that overwinter in the residue.
“If it weren’t for the fungicide resources that we have we really wouldn’t be able to do reduced tillage either. We would have to revert back to cultural practices that physically roll the ground over, decrease that residue that acts as a place for those fungi to overwinter and acts as a place for spores to blossom out, come up onto the bottom of the plant,” Montgomery said.
“One reason we talk about pesticide stewardship is we want to maintain a great big toolbox, plenty of options to use for pest management. We don’t to lose those tools to resistance or to regulation, but the other reason we talk about pesticide stewardship is because those tools make minimum till possible.
“Those tools make it possible for us to engage in the kind of practices that keep the soil where it belongs in the field and keep it from washing away into lakes, rivers and streams.”