Tillage

 The High Plains of Texas is composed of a variety of soils often exposed to extreme wind conditions. In order to capture and hold moisture, avoid soil erosion, and overall better conserve their resources, producers have adopted several advanced tillage practices.

 

No-Till

No-Till farming has been defined as a production system where the soil is left relatively undisturbed from harvest to planting. Many producers utilize cover crops in addition to the residue from the previous crop for the next production year. During planting, a narrow seedbed is prepared or holes are drilled in which seeds are planted. Disc openers, coulters and other tools used to create the seedbed or slots leave most of the ground surface and previous crop residue largely undisturbed.

 

The practice is designed to conserve soil moisture, reduce nitrogen leaching, enhance soil organic matter, and reduce soil erosion. In the Texas High Plains, the practice is greatly utilized to protect young crops from harsh winds. Additionally, producers benefit from the tillage practice through reduced labor costs, fuel savings, reduced machinery wear, and increased productivity of the field.

 

While there are many benefits to no-till farming, it may introduce crop management problems such as soil compaction and thus reduced soil aeration, increased weed pressure, soilwater depletion due to cover crop transpiration, reduced soil temperatures, and increased activity of some insect pests such as cutworms, thrips, and cotton aphids. The initial cost for no-till equipment can also be expensive.

 

No-Till Farmer: Steward of the Land

The Next Step: Adding a Cover Crop to a No-Till System

Strip Tillage

Strip tillage is another conservative tillage system that combines the benefits of no till with those of conventional till. Strip tillage is usually performed in the fall, after harvest, to prepare the ground for corn planting. A coulter, knives or shank is run between rows, creating a small bed, ususaully no more than 30 percent of the row width. The loosened soil in the strip creates a ridge 3 to 4 inches high, which improves soil drainage and warming. By spring, it usually settles down to 1 to 2 inches high, and after planting the field is relatively flat. Row middles are untilled and covered with undisturbed crop residue. Fertilizer can also be applied during strip tillage.

Strip-Till: Seed Bed Prep (from Ag PhD)

Strip-Till Basics (from Ag PhD)

 

Furrow Dikes

This tillage technique creates dams and basins (dikes) in the furrow between plant rows. The series of basins and dams help catch and absorb water from precipitation or overhead irrigation. The dikes hold irrigation and rain water improving water-to-soil contact for better absorption and decreasing runoff. It also breaks up and loosens soil surface crust that would otherwise impede infiltration and promote runoff and ponding, which lead to evaporation. The implements used to install furrow dikes are relatively inexpensive and can be attached behind existing cultivation equipment.

Planting

Depending on the type of farming, there are several different planting techniques to use. When utilizing LEPA technology with a center pivot, rows must be planted in a circle pattern following the pivot rotation in order for the drag socks or bubblers to always remain in a row furrow. With contour farming, producers can reduce soil erosion by plowing rows in a curved direction across slopes instead of directly up and down slopes.

 

Row configurations and spacing are to also be considered when planting. Many studies using different row spacings and skips have been conducted on various soil types with various moisture conditions providing a range of results. It is important to understand what row configuration and spacing works best on your farm with your paticular seed variety in order to harvest maximum yield with minimum cost.