William Kelley's applying his business degree to the nitty-gritty business of cutting tillage out of his farm operation.

The Olanta, S.C., farmer has been no-tilling soybeans for five years behind wheat stubble. The practice saves him $40 per acre and two fewer trips over the field during the season — without sacrificing yields. “This is probably the best bean crop I've ever had — I averaged 35 bushels per acre.”

Kelley shared his experience with no-till at a Farm S.M.A.R.T. Technology Conference recently in Florence, S.C. He farms wheat, corn, soybeans, sorghum and oats and is also a grain dealer.

“I went off to the University of South Carolina to get a business degree,” Kelley says. “I learned a lot when I left the crossroads, but I owe everything I know to my dad and my neighbors around me.”

Hands-on lessons in the field fall into that category.

Take for example, using no-till on heavy versus sandy soils in the Coastal Plain of South Carolina.

Kelley was wearing out a set of points on his no-till subsoiler every 100 acres.

“I ran upon an advertisement for hardened steel points,” Kelley recalls. “I was very reluctant to call because the points cost $75 apiece, but worn-out points were eating into my pocketbook.”

The manufacturer of the points, R and H Machine, made him an offer he couldn't refuse. “He said, ‘if the hardened steel points don't outlast the others three to one, you won't ever have to worry about me calling on you again.’” The proof, Kelley says, is that a set of hardened steel points lasts 300 acres. He says the biggest difference may be the extra 200 acres per set of points with “a little wing that is welded on top of the point. The wing shatters the hardpan in those low-lying areas where I was bringing up a lot of clods and having problems with standability.”

The same problems with clods were also hindering the action of his subsoiler.

“We had a problem on heavy soils with clods riding up on the subsoiler shank due to the fact the land had been sitting idle for six months,” Kelley says. After calling KMC, the manufacturer, Kelley bought a new set of coulters and made adjustments to the trip mechanism, bringing it all the way down so that it hits the coulter blades.

Kelley believes his no-till experience gives him additional time to adjust to situations as they arise in the field.

After an application of Roundup Ultra into the wheat stubble, he's ready to plant. For nematode control, he applies Temik in furrow at three pounds to five pounds per acre.

For morningglory control, he uses Classic. Before his move to no-till, he disked twice and planted. “I've cut out two trips across the field with no-till,” Kelley says. “I owe a lot of my no-till success to Roundup Ready technology. I had a world of troubles with weeds before I switched to no-till. It would get hot and dry and the weeds would develop resistance.” All of his soybean varieties are Roundup Ready.

Because of the scarcity of rain in recent years, Kelley recommends subsoiling. In the absence of subsoiling a good rotation in used. He likes to rotate with corn, but that crop doesn't always work on his soil types. He's experimenting with grain sorghum, he says.

Sidebar:

On a recent Monday, it rained an inch and a half at William Kelley's farm. By the following Wednesday, under overcast skies, he cranked the tractor and demonstrated several reduced-tillage implements for a large group of farmers.

Monsanto no-till guru John Bradley was walking around Kelley's untilled fields with a soil penetrometer, checking the depth of the hardpan.

“What we're concerned about is the clay pan — 10 to 12 inches down,” Bradley says. The tool measures compaction of the hardpan. “In reduced tillage, you use Para-till or shanks to fracture that hardpan.

“To me, you need to find out where the hardpan is, find out how much good you're going to do and then decide what implement to use,” Bradley says.

For Kelley, he's glad he made the choice. He's cut out $40 per acre with reduced trips across the field and hasn't had to sacrifice yields.

And should it rain, he doesn't have to fret about whether the fields are going to dry out in time for him to get his soybeans planted on time.

“A field under conventional-tillage would take three to four days to dry out before you could get back in,” Kelley says. “With no-till and strip till, one day of drying and you could be back in there.”