Immense benefits from minimum tillage cropping

As published in Grower May 2011

Dan Bloomer and James Powrie – LandWISE Inc.

Two days after harvest in poor weather conditions, worm castings covered the ground driven on by bean harvesters.
We were at Hugh Ritchie’s farm in Central Hawke’s Bay.  It was one of those times when we see a farmer really benefit from changes they have made.  It was confirmation that the effort and challenge has been worth it.

“This paddock is on one of our more difficult soils, with compaction issues holding us back before.  We don’t want multiple cultivations that require more labour and more steel in the ground.  Making the change to minimum tillage has been very successful here, we treat the soil as it prefers to be treated and we are being rewarded for that,” says Hugh.

The paddock was strip tilled then planted with beans.  Fuel use for establishment was 10 litres per hectare, against about 70 litres per hectares for a conventional heavy cultivation system.  With diesel at nearly $1.70/litre today those litres are worth saving.

Hugh’s bean yields were at the upper end for the season.   Even with yield and costs so compelling, the surprise was yet to come. The thing Hugh was most excited about was the state of his soil after harvest.

The bean roots had penetrated fully through the soil, showing little or no compaction. After harvest the surface was covered in worm castings, including in the tracks.  The depressions of the harvest tracks were barely noticeable and the soil opened up easily with a spade.

Hugh has achieved these improvements after adopting strip till, direct drill and GPS guidance.  He is planning to continue to move toward controlled traffic farming.  It is exciting to see, that even without matched equipment and with random traffic at harvest, Hugh and his soil are gaining from the changes made to his system.

Harvester configuration is often given as a reason not to adopt controlled traffic.   Hugh’s example shows that some discipline, minimum tillage and a focus on reducing compaction, has great benefits.  Common sense, some simple changes and new technology have slashed Hugh’s fuel bill and are improving his soil.

Where might you start?  Ask yourself the question – How can I burn less fuel and take better care of my soil?
Why is that tractor belching smoke? Is that heavy draft operation necessary?  Why is so much compaction present?  Is that second cultivation necessary?  Would a strip till or min till operation have been more fuel efficient and better for the soil?  Am I working against myself?  Am I wasting soil, oil and toil?

Talk to other farmers at a LandWISE or FAR event or conference.  See the LandWISE website for information and events  Contact us and let us put you in touch with farmers who are making changes, or for relevant information on reducing tillage, controlled traffic farming and GPS guidance.

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