There's a common joke in the Deep South — told mostly by Georgians — that Alabama always is about one hour and 50 years behind its neighbors to the immediate east. But you can't apply that joke to the adoption of conservation-tillage practices by farmers.

Alabama has established itself as a leader in conservation-tillage, especially in cotton production, says Wayne Reeves, USDA-ARS research agronomist based at the National Soil Dynamics Laboratory in Auburn. Alabama farmers, he says, have doubled the adoption rate of Georgia growers. And, Alabama is one of the leaders in the entire nation — close behind Tennessee — in the adoption rate of conservation-tillage for row crops.

In fact, since 1996, conservation-tillage acreage in Alabama has increased by a whopping 400 percent. So, it's only fitting that Alabama would play host this year to the 25th Annual Southern Conservation-Tillage Conference for Sustainable Agriculture.

This year's conference — with the theme, “Making Conservation-Tillage Conventional: Building a Future on 25 Years of Research” — packs a wealth of useful information into a two-day conference. The conference is scheduled for June 24-26 at the Auburn University Hotel and Dixon Conference Center and the E.V. Smith Research Center, about 25 miles west of Auburn.

Concurrent sessions on the first day of the meeting take a look back and into the future, with a presentation on the history and economics of conservation-tillage. The development of conservation-tillage systems for vegetables, peanuts and soybeans also will be reviewed.

Another session that should be especially interesting to cotton and peanut producers in the Southeast will look at the latest research on sod-based rotations. With low profits driving many small peanut and cotton farmers out of business in the Southeast, researchers from Florida, Alabama and Georgia are investigating this “less is more” approach to farming.

By growing peanuts and cotton less often and growing pasture grass instead, farmers could increase peanut and cotton yields by 50 to 100 percent, according to the research findings. This sod-based rotation system uses bahiagrass, the region's most popular cattle forage, to complement peanut and cotton production. The system should be suitable for farms in the 100- to 800-acre range.

Another session during the first day of the conference will focus on nutrient management and waste utilization in conservation-tillage systems.

The Conservation-Tillage Field Day on the second day of the conference includes a little something for everyone, ranging from no-till corn and cotton variety trials and conservation-tillage weed control systems to sustainable collard production and the benefits of no-till vegetable planting.

And for those conference attendees who are early risers, you won't want to miss the early bird walk to the Old Rotation prior to boarding the buses for the field day.

Just in case you're not familiar with it, the Old Rotation, located on the Auburn University campus, is the oldest, continuous cotton study in the world, having been established in 1896. It's primarily a cotton rotation study with corn, wheat and soybeans.

And, it's interesting to note that the Old Rotation has set records or near-record crop yields over the last few years. Crops on these experiments are not irrigated and totally dependent on rainfall, as are most Alabama farms. However, researchers attribute high yields to a variety of factors, including conservation-tillage, genetically modified crops, boll weevil eradication, soil fertility and cover crops.

Since 1997, all crops in the Old Rotation have been planted using minimum or no-tillage, and several innovations have been planned for this year, including irrigation for half of the plot. For the first time in 106 years, researchers will be able to measure the effect of periodic droughts on crop yields under the different rotation systems.

If you're currently using conservation-tillage or considering the possibility, you don't want to miss this conference. Registration and other details are found elsewhere in this issue.