A culture of sharing information has developed around reducing tillage on the farm. Folks who use conservation-tillage have at least two things in common: They either picked up the practice after going to a conference or visited a fellow farmer for ideas.

Bobby Riley of Orangeburg, S.C., began the practice in 1994, after visiting a Farm Smart Conference in Augusta, Ga., and then talking to a fellow farmer for tips.

Hayne Haigler attended a conference over this past winter and began strip-tilling his land this season. He farms with his son, Keith, in Cameron, S.C.

Modifying on his own

For Riley, he began strip-tilling at a time when equipment choices for the practice were limited.

But that didn't stop him.

After visiting a Farm Smart Conference in Augusta, Ga., Riley followed strip-till proponent Lamar Black back to his farm to pick up pointers. (In fact, John Bradley, Monsanto's reduced-tillage guru, says it's best to buddy with a farmer who's already using the practice.)

That's what Riley did.

“I talked to Lamar Black of Georgia, listened to him and went to his farm,” Riley says.

When Riley decided to make the switch, he had to modify equipment. He modified a six-row planter by looking at what other farmers had done.

Equipment is advanced

“The equipment today is so much more advanced than when I started strip-tilling,” Riley. “When I started, I had to do a homemade rig. Now, the equipment is available to make the job easier.

Asking questions also helps one to ease into the transition of tillage.

“It's best to ask a person who's already doing the practice,” Riley says. “The people who have already been through the learning process can help you a lot. You eliminate the mistakes.”

Watching a demonstration of reduced-tillage rigs in the field, Riley is questioned by a number of farmers about strip-till. He's glad to share.

Riley says he began the practice knowing that in time it would pan out.

Takes a while

“It won't be a magical one-year thing, but after two or three years you'll start seeing the difference, he says.

One year after going to the practice, however, Riley noticed an increase in the amount of organic matter on his light soils.

Of the difference in reduced-tillage and conventional-tillage, fertility is important. Riley advises anticipating the lime needs of the land.

“If you rent land, you may have to fall back on yield,” he says. This next season he's considering using a cover crop.

“Strip-till is a plus for us and our land,” Riley says. “Financially, we see savings in the trips we don't make across the field. It's also a plus for water quality and the condition of the soil.”

For Haigler and his son, strip-till means being able to get their 1,100 acres of cotton planted quicker.

“At the end of last year, I knew I wanted to do something different with tillage,” Haigler says.

After attending a Farm Smart Conference in Florence, S.C., last winter, Haigler purchased a six-row strip-till unit.

He didn't go all-out with the practice, but he converted enough of his 1,100 to be able to tell a difference.

Haigler and his son strip-tilled 800 acres of cotton this season, leaving 300 acres under the plow.

Retains moisture

On the strip-till land, he planted the cotton using the hill-drop method, using three seeds per 12 inches of row and got a good stand. “There's as much moisture in the strip-till as in the beds,” Haigler observes.

“I could look at the strip-till and the conventional and see the difference,” Haigler says.

“It seems like the strip-till cotton may not be as stressed as the conventional-till cotton.”

The Haiglers plan to totally make the switch to strip-till next season.

“It's a lot easier when you don't have to disk and bed,” Haigler says.

He figures he's saving about $35 to $40 per acre by eliminating two disking trips over his fields. In addition to the fuel savings and wear and tear on equipment, Haigler says strip-till is helping with water penetration after rain.


e-mail: cyancy@primediabusiness.com