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No-Till Farming.

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  • Raju Titus
    Jun 11, 2009 12:58 PM, By Ron Smith Farm Press Editorial Staff Crop rotation and cover crops enhance the effectiveness of no-till cropping systems by reducing
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      Jun 11, 2009 12:58 PM, By Ron Smith
      Farm Press Editorial Staff

      Crop rotation and cover crops enhance the effectiveness of no-till
      cropping systems by reducing disease and weed pressure, improving soil
      moisture holding capacity and increasing soil organic matter content.

      “It’s hard to think about no-till without crop rotation,” said
      Oklahoma State University graduate student Silvano Abreu at the
      No-Till Oklahoma Conference in Oklahoma City earlier this year.

      “I have not seen no-till success without rotation,” he said. “Rotation
      promotes healthy soil and makes it more productive.”

      He said wheat after wheat in no-till systems promotes weed and disease
      pressure. “Rotation to corn or milo breaks that cycle. Rotation helps
      manage weeds such as shattercane.”

      Chad Godsey, OSU Extension agronomist, agrees. “Crop rotation offers a
      lot of benefits to no-till production, and we have several alternative
      crops and cover crops available. It’s important to maintain soil cover
      as much as possible to enhance soil quality. Growers need to maintain
      flexibility with crop options.”

      Godsey said one criticism of using winter cover crops is potential
      moisture loss. “It takes only one rainfall to replenish moisture lost
      to a cover crop,” he said. “That’s usually adequate.”

      Southwest farmers have several rotation and cover crops available.
      Abreu said ryegrass planted after harvesting cotton helps protect soil
      over the winter and also produces biomass and soil organic matter.

      “With a single crop it’s hard to break down soil compaction. Rotation
      provides different kinds of root systems that help break compaction
      layers.”

      He said continuous cotton produces very little biomass. “Adding a
      cover crop increases biomass significantly. Austrian winter pea, for
      instance, grows rapidly, to 4 inches tall in just a few weeks.”

      A combination of a forage radish and oats also provides significant
      benefits as a cover crop, producing as much as 4,000 pounds of biomass
      per acre. “The forage radish increases water infiltration potential,”
      Abreu said. “The plant dies with cold weather but the big roots remain
      in the soil. Those roots are 85 percent water and as they decompose
      they release moistures into the soil.”

      Godsey said the oats decompose slower and maintain live plants longer
      than the radishes so the combination keeps live vegetation on the soil
      for much of the winter.

      Abreu said pigeon pea produces 4,000 pounds of biomass per acre. Sun
      hemp is another possibility and helps break down compaction.

      He said corn also produces a lot of biomass, more than 10 tons per
      hectare. Oats produce nearly 7 tons; wheat adds 4.6 tons; turnips 4.4
      and soybeans 3.7.

      He said turnover rate, the time it takes for vegetative matter to turn
      into soil organic matter, is fairly short in the South. “Most organic
      matter decomposes quickly with more than 80 percent decomposing within
      three months after a crop dies. So soil can run out of protection
      quickly. Producers need to keep organic matter in the system longer by
      producing more biomass to protect the soil.”

      Organic matter also contributes nitrogen to the soil. “A cover crop
      such as cowpeas or white clover can add as much as 40 pounds of
      nitrogen per acre.”

      Godsey said short fallow periods also may help increase water holding capacity.

      email: rsmith@...
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