This is on producer's perspective that has been developing over a 10-year period.
I farm in a flat to gently undulating part of the Alberta "Parkland." We receive about 10-12 inches of growing season precipitation annually, which results in fairly predictable moisture stress for crop development most years.
Our clay loam soils usually reward us with good crops annually. But, no-till farming helps us manage soil moisture more effectively and thus reduce some of the stress of growing crops on dry land.
Over the years I have had many "learning experiences" developing my direct seeding and no-till system. The following is a brief outline of what I have learned.
I break the process of no-tilling on my farm into five basic stages or processes which are utterly important. They are interdependent factors which operate together to produce successful crops. These factors are:
1) Residue Management - Successful no-tilling begins at harvest. The harvester must chop and spread the straw and chaff evenly. Without this step I would be beat. Uniform chopping and spreading allows your seeding tool to smoothly, and without bunching, place the seed into the ground.
2) Weed Control - Weed control begins at harvest for two reasons:
a) You can assess prior crop weeds and their impact on your next year's crop
b) You can use pre-harvest spray to control certain weeds for the next year's crop like
- Canada and sow thistle
- Toad flax
As experience with no-till increases, our flexibility with weed control increases. We can decrease our dependence on certain herbicides somewhat. Use all the chemistry possible and hopefully ward off the lurking monster of "herbicide resistance." My system allows me to rotate virtually every chemical group. This takes much planning but I am certain that it will be worth it.
3) Seed Placement - Seed placement is crucial! I must have a system that allows for shallow seeding and that creates a blackened area on top of the seed row. Because our springs tend to be cool, a blackened ribbon above the seed row brings the soil temperature to normal very quickly.
4) Fertilizer Placement - My opener system allows me to separate all the fertilizer from the seed. High rates of N must be separated from the seed zone. Some evidence to suggest that in certain crops like peas, the granular fertilizer should be separated as well.
5) Rotation - Crop rotation is very important. It helps resolve weed issues, residue issues and disease issues. My main rotation has been Canola - Cereal - Peas - Cereal. I plan to move to a rotation of Peas - Canola - Cereal - Cereal, and will also include flax and other special crops.
What does no-till help me do?
No-Till farming is exciting, dynamic and incredibly interesting. It has made farming like being on a good vacation.
Now if I could just make farming pay.