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No-Till on the Plains comes to Marion County

Staff writer

At least 60 participants attended the No-till on the Plains whirlwind exposition Monday in Marion County. The 501c3 non-profit educational organization promotes the benefits of no-till, a process in which seed is planted directly into soil that has not been disturbed through plowing or disking.

This was the first time No-till on the Plains has been in Marion County. Many national conservation service employees from throughout the state attended the event as a training seminar.

The focus of the expo was on planting diverse mixes of cover crops in order to more quickly and effectively improve the health of the soil.

Several local conservation officials opened Monday’s meeting with demonstrations of how rainfall is absorbed by conventional, no-till, and grass- covered soils.

The group took a trip to farms owned by Doug and Randy Svitak in northern Marion County. The first stop was at a soil trench dug between a conventionally farmed field and a no-tilled field. Soil Scientist Gary Scott pointed out the differences in the two soil profiles.

The second stop was at a field covered with sunflowers and a variety of other plants such as radishes, turnips, and clover. Randy Svitak planned to turn cattle into the field to add manure to the plant mixture. The field will be planted to corn in spring.

Ed Svitak has been practicing no-till on one field in particular for many years. He said he plans to start using cover crops to improve more of his land.

Jason Wiebe of Durham said he has been practicing no-till for seven years, and it works well for him. He said one year he raised corn without adding any nitrogen to the soil after spreading manure on the ground.

Glenn Prieb of Lehigh said he attended the event to learn more about no-till, even though he is not practicing it right now. He said he wanted to see if he could work it into his crop rotations.

Cary Granzow of Herington uses cover crops in his no-till operation. He said he attended the expo to learn more about it.

Ryan Speer, a part owner of Jacob’s Farm at Halstead, gave a presentation on how his farm uses cover crops.

“I learned that, if it (no-till) isn’t working, it is something I am doing wrong,” he said.

He initially thought planting cover crops was a waste of time. Then, in 2007, when the wheat froze out in the spring, it left a mat of residue. He decided to drill soybeans into it. A field that always did poorly did much better that year than ever before, with less water.

He was sold on using cover crops. Now his land never lies idle. For example, after harvesting a corn crop, he plants cereal rye and radishes. The rye grows rank and is sprayed with herbicide in late April the following spring. It provides a matted seed bed for soybeans.

Speer said rye has an “amazing” root structure and limits evaporation after rainfall. He often finds worms mingled in the roots.

He concluded that cover crops improve the soil, produce more revenue, help control weather extremes, and reduce the need for chemicals.

Two other speakers spoke about how they integrated cattle grazing with their no-till operations.

Steve Swaffer of near Topeka, executive director of No-till on the Plains, directed the event. Lana Barkman, a former Hillsboro resident, was the coordinator.

Last modified Nov. 6, 2014

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