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No-till farming gaining popularity

Staff writer

Jerry Rziha of rural Tampa has been farming at least part-time his entire life and full-time since 1976. His farm has been 100 percent no-till since 2002.

“It’s worked very well for me,” Rziha said. “I farm better now than I ever did when I did tillage.”

No-till farming is the practice of leaving crop stubble, or residue, in fields after harvest without tilling the field or burning it.

It has been increasing in popularity with Marion County farmers recently, said Grover DePriest, supervisory district conservationist for Natural Resource Conservation Service. There has been a visible change in the 2½ years he’s been in Marion County, he said.

Rziha agreed. He said that among the farmers he knows, some who swore three or four years ago that they would never farm no-till are trying it now.

No-till farming has several advantages for farmers, Rziha said. It reduces erosion, increases organic content of soil, promotes growth of earthworms and microbes, and helps retain moisture, all of which are good for the soil, he said.

No-till farming tends to reduce yields in the first two or three years, but somewhere between the fifth and tenth years, no-till yields surpass tillage, Rziha said. He isn’t certain why that is, but he thinks it takes time to redevelop soil structure and organic content when starting no-till farming.

Double-cropping — planting a fall crop in fields that had wheat earlier in the year — also benefits from no-till farming, Rziha said. It removes the extra step of tilling fields after harvest.

He said he suspects a significant portion of harvested fields have a fall crop growing amid the wheat stubble. Soybeans and milo are the most common crops for double-cropping.

There are reasons not all farmers do no-till farming. The most significant, Rziha said, is that it requires different equipment, and it can be cost-prohibitive to switch to no-till equipment.

DePriest believes there is a psychological reason some farmers are reluctant to switch, as well.

“Some of it is mindset,” DePriest said. “They like the smell of that dirt turning over in the spring.”

In some cases, no-till farming requires more planning and management. Particularly, soybeans aren’t well-suited to grow in the same field for consecutive years of no-till farming, because they don’t leave much crop residue and don’t contribute much to soil structure, DePriest said. Therefore, it is important to use soybeans as part of a crop rotation with no-till.

Rziha said the benefits are worth the extra planning.

“To me, it is the responsible way if you want good land for your grandchildren,” he said.

Last modified July 21, 2011

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