Thoughts on Dirt management


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I just got back from a conference in Peoria IL. Made the 6 hr drive over, one of those rough ones were you drive straight for 5 hours turn once and you are there. But I got to see a lot of crop land, I would say the majority of crops are in the ground. While driving across MO I saw probably an even mix of no till killed sod and conventional worked ground. Once I crossed over the Mississippi it seemed almost all of the fields were worked. Huge fields farming every available inch. Trees few and far between.

Those that were out driving in MO or IL on 5/17 know we had some pretty mean wind. Gusty to 40 mph. In MO we just complained about getting thrown all over the road. In IL about 25 miles west of Springfield they closed the interstate due to a dust storm - 0 visibility 20 accidents 1 fatality. I know enough about land prices to know that is some really expensive dirt to be giving away!

A guy has to as if we have forgot all the lessons learned from the dust bowl days?

Rant over. ;)
No-till to preserve soil, but doze out every tree row around.
I don't know the answers. I went to throw-n-mow to preserve the soil, moisture, and the microbes. But now I fear the chemicals I use tie up nutrients and affect microbial life. Lots to learn.

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I think the sweet spot for managing as "organically" as possible has to include rolling cover crops followed by no till planting methods. Rolling can terminate the cover crop, negating the need for herbicide, while also provide a thick enough cover to suppress weeds and conserve moisture.

No tilling is great once you figure it out, but it very often requires expensive equipment and perfect planting conditions. For wannabe farmers like us, it can be difficult to wait for those perfect conditions.

Additionally, current no till methods might not be as great as initially thought:

Lots to think about. Based on everything I've read here, dgallow and Baker are closest to finding the sweet spot for where I would like to end up on my properties, but I don't intend to ever get cattle!
I've learned a lot from dgallow on this subject and continue to learn more all the time. Cattle can be a big help (and it is what his system is based on) but a lot of his concepts and ideas can reach into systems without cattle.
I was talking with a farmer a couple of days ago and he said he had just sprayed his notill fields. Spraying cost him a lot more than fuel for disking would have. He justified it due to the soil health advantages he gained... but admitted his inputs (fertilizer and lime) haven't significantly changed since going to notill...

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E308, here in the great state of Illinois we are all about the almighty dollar... Fencerows seem to get in the way of us chasing that dollar, gotta plant every available inch for max profits.
We are also blessed with great soil so our goal is to use up every available nutrient to help with the bottom line. WELCOME TO ILLINOIS! Hold on to your wallet while driving through our great state..
I am in Quincy and I heard about the dust bowl on 1-72.. I think it was about 45 minutes away from here.

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In La. there are giant farms with no trees utilizing conventional till agriculture. I have not seen the first no till full scale farm and it has bothered me. Thinking about it I reconcile the problem by looking at it from the farmers point of view. They have a bazillion dollars tied up in gigantic equipment all designed for tillage. Assume a farmer is 40 years old. Then he only has about 20-25 crop years ahead of him to pay the notes on that giant equipment and make the system work. He cannot afford failure. Experimentation is risky and it is 'safer' to stay with conventional thinking which has produced predictable results.

While I understand the dilemma the challenge becomes how to change the paradigm. Certainly as younger farmers join in there is more willingness to take risk. I'm hoping it doesn't take a 'dust bowl ' event to force change. I've been fascinated with how folks like Joel Salatin , the permaculture crowd and others approach farming from an older model utilizing a multifaceted approach not only earning a good living from smaller acreage but improving the landscape at the same time. I believe as more folks become interested in controlling the quality of their food supply and exploring a lifestyle closer to nature we will see a transition from mega factory farms [ both ag and animal ] to a more sustainable approach......I hope.

It is easy for me as a hobby deer grower to experiment and play farmer as the cost is manageable and failure acceptable. I don't think I could make it as a farmer and hold them in highest regard. Nonetheless being an optimist I believe we are on a precipice of change that will create a seismic shift in how we feed the world growing animals and foodstuff and at the same time improving the environment in all ways.
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Believe me guys I see both sides of the coin. The conference I went to was at the USDA Crop Research Facility in Peoria (8 hours of corn genetics, mycotoxins, consumer preferences, sustainability, etc.). Most of my family farms. Just pointing out that a multiple year drought will show what trees and windbreaks are for. MO is heading the same way, IL with larger scale ag (read more $) has just gotten there first. As far as getting away from mega farms it is not going to happen unless we want to starve a few million people. Everyone wants Non GMO, Organic, Gluten free until they see the price tag. Lower yield is expensive. Farmers of 30 years ago would be amazed by the crop yields of today. The farmer that could make a "living" on a hundred acres doesn't exist anymore, it is fairly rare to find a row crop farmer with less than 1000 in my part of the world.
No-till takes time to work. The real benefits of no-till aren't seen in a year or even two. Like Baker said, most can't afford to take a chance, and the many that do, can't afford to stick it out long enough...
Boys notill is not new, my Dad had a drill 20 years ago. Now everyone has went back to planters. You can just make a planter twice as wide and it seeds more precisely- both equal making more money.
Boys notill is not new, my Dad had a drill 20 years ago. Now everyone has went back to planters. You can just make a planter twice as wide and it seeds more precisely- both equal making more money.

Nope, unfortunately it's becoming a thing of the past, in the corn belt. Believe it or not, we have people starting to plow again here.
This is an interesting read. I was surprised with my trip thru MO OK and TX last yr as to how little no till I saw. Whereas most farms in my area have been no till and covercrops for quite some time. But I think in part the driving force for my area is less ideal soils than the Midwest so it is more profitable and less wasteful of the soil to use here.
I think Midwest in part is spoiled by dgreat soils so like extra money in your pocket you can choose to be less conservative. Or they are jst too stubborn to learn and realize. Not sure.

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I grew up in central Illinois. The man my father worked for owned 3,000 acres, and had around 1,000 head of beef cattle in feedlots. I'm pretty sure I'll never see dirt as black as it was. It was all plowed every spring and covered in cow manure every fall. It was all rotated back and forth in corn and soybeans. Yields near record levels. I remember walking beans as a 6' tall teenager and beans were up to my armpit. Forget about knee high by the 4th of July, corn was 8 feet tall by then, with 3 full ears on every stalk when it was done.

Try telling that farmer he's doing it wrong and should be going notill.
Many of the thots that we chase after these days are really nothing new. If you read Leopold and others, they were begging for farmers to do such things as leaving edges for wildlife, water management, letting nature work the soils, etc. These things were 80 yrs ago and longer if you follow some of the early nature pioneers. Even the Bible throws in seed management successes and failures at times. While the back to nature movement can sometimes go out of control, it has a good basis. Plenty of leftover, hiding in the holler "hippies" in my area that have been doing much of this since the 60's. And age doesn't dictate a farmers actions. Some of the most progressive and best run money making farms in my area are managed by fellows late in life. They have seen it all.
I got Otis, my tracking dog, from Peoria, IL. That’s one heck of a ride from south Alabama and an eye opening one to see the shear amount of cropland. Here in south Alabama many of us are dealing with very sandy soil. Many people not from this area may not know this but a long, long time ago…..from about Montgomery and points south were under the ocean. I’ve seen some pretty nice collections of sharks teeth that people have recovered from around the area.

I’ve been doing my own version of no-till now for several years in this beach sand and I can tell you without a doubt I now have better fall/winter food plots than many of the other ones around me. I say that not having to guess either. Being a very active blood tracker, I get to travel around to many hunting properties around the area. I probably went to over 50 different properties last year within 40-50 miles of my home. The vast majority of fields were plowed to death plots of sand that were struggling to be productive. Lots of yellows, reds, and purples. Lots of just bare fields as well. Folks just don’t know any other way. They accept it as normal and don’t see anything wrong when they look at their plots. They don’t see the erosion….they don’t see the stress…..they don’t see the loss of productivity.
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We all would do well with a good bush hog and seed drill. But not for profit small averages cannot afford all equipment
I have watched this a few times. There are very few videos on food plots where people are keeping something in the ground all the time, but there are lots of cover crop videos with tons of info. It clicked with these fellas.
Dogdoc always liked these pics on my old threads. I was pulling a soil sample and thought I would snap a recent pic. This is the top soil I've built from practicing no-till priinciples.

I have watched this a few times. There are very few videos on food plots where people are keeping something in the ground all the time, but there are lots of cover crop videos with tons of info. It clicked with these fellas.
I grew up one county over from the guys in NC, I never paid attention growing up, but nowadays a large portion of them no till. Currently, very few fields gets turned over down here in SE NC. The ones that do seem to be the smaller farms that are family farms. You can look at the dirt many times and see the difference in soil color in areas where they till for every crop. I understand the small farms not wanting to change, cause one bad season and they are bankrupt.