No-till is a system, Ron Morse points out. For tobacco or vegetable producers considering the switch, it involves a series of steps.

The first step is establishing a good cover crop, “drilled at high rates for dense uniform stands in the fall,” says the Virginia Tech horticulturist. Morse presented a talk at the Cover the Land Conservation Tillage Seminar at the Greenville, N.C., Extension office.

“Farmers need to select a cover crop to maximize biomass,” Morse says. He uses two bushels of rye seed to five tons of residue or biomass per acre. “Don't save money on the cover crop.”

The second step is killing the cover crop before planting. Farmers can either kill the cover crop chemically or mechanically, using rollers or flail mowers. “The mechanical killing of the cover crop is an up and coming thing,” Morse says.

“Roll it or mow it first before you spray the cover crop. You want all the residues going in the same way. The problem with spraying first is the residue will go in 360 different directions.”

The third step to no-till in tobacco or vegetable crops is to establish transplants with minimum disturbance of the soil or the crop mulch. A no-till transplanter can function in different soils, aiding with precision placement of nutrients and water. Morse developed a sub-surface stripper transplanter that cuts through the residue and can plant into cover crops as tall as 6 feet.

Weed management is the fourth step to a successful no-till system. “Clean up weedy fields and practice stale seed bed techniques before planting,” Morse advises. “Use large, vigorous transplants and arrange the plants in multiple rows.