Benefits of a Long Term Commitment

Planting a cover crop can protect against soil erosion while preventing weed growth. (Photo by Everett Brazil, III)

By Everett Brazil, III

The hA family has been farming in Harmon County for several generations. It is their lifeblood, and they are constantly striving to find new technologies and practices to improve their operation and the land.
One of the biggest advancements they have turned to the past few years has been the adoption of no-till management in 2010, which has led to an improvement in their wheat and cotton.

“We were trying to conserve moisture as much as possible,” Seth Brookman said. “That was probably the biggest factor, and the next biggest was wind erosion in cotton.”

As seedlings, cotton plants are vulnerable to wind and sand, which can destroy the plant even before it begins setting bolls.

“The young cotton plants are really tender,” he said. “If you get wind and dirt blowing, it can cut them off at the ground, and you’ve lost your stand of cotton.”

Many producers have adopted the management practice to conserve soil moisture, as well as the soil itself, for better stewardship of the land. Historically, many farms have used conventional tillage to cut down on weeds and insects and even disease presence, as it buries the pathogen in the soil where it cannot impact the crop. No-till, however, eliminates plowing in favor of conservation.

“No-till is farming without tillage – no plowing of any kind, no soil disturbance, other than planting,” said Melissa Teague, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) District Conservationist, Harmon County. “No-till can reduce erosion by wind and water and improve water infiltration and moisture retention. It can moderate soil temperatures, and it can stop losses of organic matter.”

The secret is leaving a residue from the previous crop on the surface of the field. The residue, along with the plants remaining in the field, also helps keep the nutrient cycle functioning. Modern soil science has found there are many beneficial organisms in the soil that help break down the residue and incorporate nutrients into the soil, which can aid in fertilization.

“There is a whole ecosystem that lies under the soil surface; it consists of bacteria and fungi and other beneficial micro-organisms as well as earthworms,” Teague said. “They utilize crop residues and break it down, making the nutrients available in the soil for the next crop to use. Tillage interrupts the cycle, and no-till can help the cycle continue to run, on a limited basis.”

Read the May issue to learn more!