High-Yield Wheat: No-Till Can Boost Yields

No-till improves soil quality and reduces erosion, which is why most farmers make the switch. Along the way, they’ve discovered that no-till wheat typically yields the same or higher than conventional tillage systems, especially in regions with lower rainfall, and requires fewer inputs,  especially labor, equipment and fuel. Whether you’ve been no-tilling wheat for 20 years or are still learning about the practice, here are some considerations to keep in mind with every crop.
Residue distribution. The first step toward successful long-term no-till wheat production is to evenly spread crop residue at harvest. Poor residue distribution impacts wheat seeding performance and long-term nutrition. If you see tiger stripes of residue across your fields, you will probably have problems with wheat stand uniformity. New and improved straw chopper designs help evenly spread residue, but it’s important to make the necessary adjustments to your combine during harvest and limit the width of your combine head to the maximum spread width.
Seeder selection. Numerous designs of no-till wheat seeding equipment are on the market, but disk drills/air seeders are by far the most popular for seeding wheat (and other crops) to a uniform depth, especially into heavy residue. Be sure to select a drill/air seeder that can plant narrow rows, preferably 71⁄2″ or narrower. In all of the replicated row spacing research trials I’ve conducted, the narrowest row spacings yield the highest.

Seeding strategies. If you don’t begin with a uniform wheat stand, it’s impossible to harvest maximum yields. When seeding, pay particular attention to seed depth and population. Make sure all seeds fall to the base of the seed slot, ideally pressed into place with a firming wheel for uniform moisture access and germination. Monitor planting speed, which has a big effect on seeding depth consis-tency and residue cutting. In fact, research suggests that every 1 mph increase above 5 mph can reduce down pressure and residue cutting by approximately 10%.

Sharp blades are necessary to slice through the soil and residue. Seed boots direct the seed into the slot, and seed firming and closing wheels tuck the seed in place. When seeding into heavy residue and/or hard, dry soils, ballast is likely necessary to help provide the additional down force required for cutting.
With some variation by region and farm size, air seeders are becoming popular because of their increased capacity. Most producers looking to maximize efficiency use an air seeder coupled to a trailed air cart, which can be filled with both seed and fertilizer. Trailed air carts don’t cost much more than an air seeder with a hopper on the frame, so the benefits can far outweigh the additional expense.
Nutrient management. Many producers across the Central and Northern Plains have been placing liquid or dry phosphorus (P) in the row with the seed for many years.
Research suggests that positioning P (and other nutrients that are safe for the seed) in the row with the seed can offer significant yield advantages compared with surface broadcast applications, especially on lower-testing soils. The biggest yield advantages are found in no-till systems, where the soils tend to be cooler early in the spring, making most nutrients, including P, less available.
Research suggests that the differences in availability between dry and liquid P products are minimal, so go with the cheapest product.
If you can band P with the seeding pass, you can save the spreading fees and help justify the expense of an air cart. A boost in fertilizer efficiency can also be captured by banding the nutrients in the row. Some of the most efficient growers are now pulling the same air cart they use to seed wheat behind their planter to position fertilizer alongside corn or soybean rows with the planter.
While most research suggests the nutrient requirements for no-till and conventionally tilled wheat are similar, the exception is nitrogen (N). While long-term N requirements even out over time, short-term N demands are generally 20 lb. to 30 lb. per acre higher in no-till systems compared with conventional tillage practices.
Monitor seeding performance. No-till drills and air seeders require adjustments based on residue levels, soil type, soil moisture, etc. Spending a few extra minutes in each field checking performance and making the appropriate adjustments will pay dividends. Make sure all rows are delivering seed to the bottom of the seed slot, seeding depth is uniform and residue is being cut. In addition, check the seeding depth across the seeding width, including those rows behind drill or tractor wheel tracks, where different depth settings and closing system adjustments are frequently required.

(Source – http://www.agweb.com/article/high-yield_wheat_no-till_can_boost_yields/=

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Manure and No-till

The biggest agronomic concern is nitrogen availability.  Same day incorporation will result in 40%-75% of the nitrogen to be available for the crop, depending on manure type.  If tillage occurs seven or more days after application, 15%-20% of the nitrogen is available.  This would be the same as not incorporating at all, as in a no-till system.  Also consider that a half inch of rain has the same effect on nitrogen availability as tillage.  As long as soil tests show phosphorus or potassium levels are at optimum or below; manure application rates can be adjusted to supply the needed nitrogen.  In situations where nitrogen availability falls short of the recommended level without tillage, the producer must consider the cost of tillage and loss of soil structure versus the cost of extra fertilizer.

Injecting manure saves nitrogen and reduces odor.  This can only be done with liquid manure.  Injection has the same nitrogen availability for crop use as immediate incorporation.  To inject manure requires the expense of new equipment and/or updating spreaders.  It may be more economical to hire a certified manure hauler to spread your manure.  Injection may make non-farm neighbors more comfortable, and they may feel that the producer is being considerate.  While planning to start injecting manure, make sure injection is compatible with your conservation plan.  Most types of injection cause significant soil disturbance.

For the producers handling manure as a solid, there is no easy solution.  Composting can reduce odor without significantly reducing the total amount of nitrogen.  It produces fine-textured compost that can be spread thinly and is easy to plant into.  To begin composting, there is an initial monetary outlay to build or convert a facility.  Composting requires time to properly manage it and puts a lag time between clean out and spreading.  For those not interested in composting; a fine, well decomposed manure is best for a no-till situation.  It can be spread evenly; distributing nutrients evenly and creating a situation that will work well with a no-till planter.

Whether you have liquid or solid manure, if the producer’s number one concern is odor, a no-till system is probably not for them.  Odor can be reduced but not eliminated by implementing some of the previous practices.

The only law that requires incorporation is Pennsylvania ’s Act 6 Nutrient Management Law.  The law calls for incorporation in certain, unique situations.  Manure should not leave the field where it has been spread.  Proper timing, attention to the weather and cover can all play a part to prevent pollution.  Proper conservation practices and planning play a key role in reducing the amount of nutrients that could be carried in runoff.  By leaving the manure on top, there may be a slight increase in the amount of nutrients in runoff but reductions in leaching should offset this increase.

Cover is very important in no-till.  Crop residue can help hold liquid or solid manure in place.  If fall spreading is necessary, cover crops can be the answer.  Cover crops can take up extra nutrients, mainly nitrogen, in the soil.  They need to be planted early enough to get a good start, usually September.  When they are killed in the spring, they decompose and release the nutrients for the next crop to use.  Or the crops could be cut for feed eliminating the nutrient recycling.  This is good if your fields are above optimum levels for phosphorus or potassium.  Cover crops also provide extra cover for fields with low residue, such as corn silage or soybean fields.  They create more organic matter, even when harvested, which is key in the no-till system.

The addition of manure to a no-till system improves soil quality by increasing organic matter.  This additional organic matter can make a smoother transition to no-till, because the soil structure improves faster.  Good soil structure allows more water infiltration.  Stable soil structure is the most important part of a no-till system.  Once the soil structure is stable, yields should become similar to tilled yields.  The few years while the soil structure is forming usually have lower yields.  Manure as an organic matter addition helps shorten the time for the soil structure to form.  Tillage destroys the soil structure, so any tillage after no-tilling for a few years effectively puts the producer back where they started.

All additions in no-till are made to the top two inches of the soil and can result in a condition known as “acid roof”.  Basically, the addition of pesticides, fertilizers and manure result in a lowering of the pH in the top two inches of the soil.  This layer should be tested annually or more frequently if your pesticides don’t seem to be working properly.  If surface pH is below 6.2 and a standard soil test doesn’t require lime, 2,000 lb/ac of lime should be surface applied.  This will bring the surface pH up.

Manure will work best with no-till when the producer has a limited concern about odor, is willing to use a cover crop or has high crop residue levels, and is willing to make changes to application rates to adjust for lower available nitrogen.  Each producer must make a decision based on the circumstances best for their operation.  Manure application and no-till systems are compatible.

Remember to look for the next article which will be focusing on preparing to begin no-tilling and the last article which will cover making no-till work for you.

(Source – http://www.yorkccd.org/agricultural-programs/no-tillcover-crops-articles/manure-and-no-till/)

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