December 29, 2015

Fourth-Generation Indianola Farmer a Pioneer in No-Till Practices

It wasn't that long ago that farmers prepared their fields for planting by tilling the soil repeatedly and creating a pristine seed bed, much like preparing a backyard garden. Today, reduced tillage--including no tillage at all--is considered a best management practice in an effort to preserve soil moisture, reduce erosion and improve soil health. Leaving stalks, corncobs and leaves in the field--known as "residue"--is an important strategy in sustainable farming.

Paul Schaffert, an Indianola, Nebraska, family corn farmer, converted to no-till practices several years ago. In fact, he was named "No-Till Farmer of the Year"--in 1977! Southwest Nebraska typically has high temperatures and little rainfall during the summer growing season, "It's like going out into your garden and putting mulch or straw on top of your tomato plants--and that's what we're doing. We're basically mulching. We're leaving those old stalks and stubble out there to capture moisture for the following crop," Schaffert said. "Now when we get a hard rain in a short period of time, it stays in the field instead of running off, creating ditches and breaking out terraces," he said. Leaving residue in the field is especially critical in the winter. "The more residue we have, the more potential we have of catching one or two snows during the winter--and that can be equal to three to four inches of moisture that stays in the soil," he said. "I think we're picking up a 20 to 25 bushel yield increase with that residue in place."

"Another advantage of residue management is that it will lower the soil temperature in the hot summer months by 10 to 15 degrees. By keeping it cooler, the plant has a better chance of producing a good crop for you," Shaffert added. Schaffert says that one indicator that his soil is getting healthier is an increase in the earthworm population. "By not tilling the soil, we're not destroying their home," he said. "Earthworms create pockets and channels in the soil that allow moisture to percolate into the soil and stay there. Where you have earthworms, you're going to have good till in the soil--good, good, soil."

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