I probably won’t go the 100% no-till route, but reduced tillage could work out later on. I don’t see tilling as a bad thing to avoid, and no-till as a good thing to strive toward. They are both aspects of agriculture to consider and both require proper management. Both have benefits and both have drawbacks. No-till systems lose carbon without inputs, just as full tillage would, but at slower rates, perhaps adding a bit of foolproofness to the equation. Before I put this field into production it was no-input pasture. It had next to nothing for soil organic matter at the beginning. At 5%, it now has amazing structure.
Some other no-till cons for me:
-Increased fungal pathogens from surface residue decay.
-Increased use of herbicide (I currently use no herbicide), mowing isn’t enough for some weeds.
-Long time frame until it becomes a benefit, not something that I can afford to at the moment.
My biggest tillage concern is compaction, so I went out and found a used Tortella spader for $1300, a steal! This conservation tilling device is quite amazing. I will post some pictures and video when I get to this point.
The spader shatters soil down to a foot without inversion. One of its key features is its ability to break up compaction. Last year, all I used was the spader, however, since it doesn’t invert, it didn’t kill the sod that I wanted gone, this was a problem later in the season.
After this year, I may not need to plow, but I try not to stay married to any one idea. If my cover crop does well I was considering trying strip tillage with my spader as a form of conservation tillage.
Erosion isn’t really an issue due to topography, this field sits in a shallow basin. My entire property is a micro watershed, it gets wet, real wet… Tilling helps dry it up, but some years are better than others.
Run-off is my number 1 concern! Even with 100% organic you can mess up the waterways. My P and K levels are pretty close to ideal for estimates that I have read for NPK uptake per acre. I am adding 35lbs/acre of P and K pre-plant, this should be all that it needs. Nitrogen is very low, so I am adding 70lbs/acre, soil organic matter should add another 70lbs. This is near the low N estimate, but another 70lbs from the high estimates. My initial application of N should be gone within 4 weeks. I will test soil at this point and decide if I want to inject more N as needed through July (peak veg growth). Soil organic matter may be producing plenty of N at this point, but I will test and see. August thru harvest will see no more soil additions. Just a foliar PK boost early and mid flower.
Striking a balance between ecology and economy is no simple task…