It’s a great pleasure to bring you my thoughts on No Till farming. My observations are formed purely on what I see farmers doing. I have seen many farmers over the years make a success of no till and my thoughts are based on their success. I am an Ag Engineer and have been involved in the manufacture of no till planting machinery for about 20 years. http://technology
Our Tobin planters are operated by a plethora of farming organizations, some of the best farmers in the country are using our machines and it is the results they are achieving that make me confident to speak out on no till practices. My comments herein are a result of observing the best farmers in the country over many years and discovering what works and what doesn’t work. https://worldgraphics20.com/2020/10/19/17-new-technology-inventions-you-must-have/
I have seen it with my own eyes, I have seen failures and I have seen triumph and I am taking this opportunity in this video to explain to you the opportunity you have to triumph in your farming system. [What is No-Till] No Till is a combination of farming practices that seek to use the natural organisms of the soil to obtain the best possible sustainable return from our soils. Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century.
Organisms break down plant matter, biomass, into usable food such as nitrates, phosphates and other trace elements which are necessary for healthy crop production. Biomass is decaying plant and animal materials, energy… … energy with so much potential to give us good sustainable crops for years Organisms such as worms, beetles, termites and bacteria are living things.
All living things and require a decent environment to thrive. Like most living things, they require access to oxygen, they require space, they require water, shelter and of course food. No Till is all about creating an environment for the proliferation and health of the natural micro organisms in order to facilitate the breakdown of biomass. Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century.
No till methods stores more carbon in the soil in the form of plant residue which bind particles together to improve the soil structure. The presence of organic material on top of the ground and over years in the ground creates an environment where all sorts of insects, bacteria, etc… can live, all beneficial towards the breakdown of biomass eventually to be used for plant food. The environment is invariably referred to as soil structure.
When we say good soil structure we mean a good environment to encourage the proliferation of all these bacteria and organisms. [Space] Perhaps the most important of these requirements is space. Living things need space, it’s a basic. Most need space to travel, the food needs space to travel, the food needs space to travel, the roots need space to travel, space to store moisture, space in the form of conduits to access oxygen, space to break down biomass which provides the food for crop production. Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century.
Moisture needs to infiltrate where it falls and to infiltrate it needs space, and it needs to be stored for crop protection, if it does not infiltrate, then it will run off to some dam causing erosion along the way, and erosion as we know is an enemy of no till. Moisture can only infiltrate if there is space, , it can only infiltrate if there are voids to travel into. To achieve space and retain it, we need to reduce compaction of our soils, if the soils are compacted, the voids will be eliminated, the spaces will collapse.
There will be no space to store the elements necessary for an environment o support the proliferation and health of the natural organisms. What is a safe level of compaction you may ask. Well it’s like smoking. Ask yourself what is a safe level of smoking, , zero per day is best, 1 per day is worse, 0 per day is better than twenty and so on. All I can say is keep compaction to a minimum. Every time you compact the soil you are going to break down voids, you’re going to collapse the spaces spaces that keep the whole system going. Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century.
That means keeping heavy machinery and stock off the land used for crop production. It is vital to keep traffic off the land when it is wet as the voids will collapse quickly when it is wet and it will take longer to recover. est practice is to use permanent tracks, tram tracking where the same tracks are used year in year out, to plant, spray and harvest.
The tracks may or may not be planted but the rest of the soil is left with zero compaction encouraging an environment conducive to vibrant healthy microbial activity. We need to reduce tillage, tillage break down the soils into fines. Every time a farmer sends a tine or disc through the soil, the natural activity is in some way disturbed, retarded or killed. Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century.
Fines are an enemy of no till, they fill up any voids that may otherwise be used for storage and other activity and every single time a tine or disc is dragged through the soil, more fines are created. For too long farmers have been using planting rates much too high resulting in good looking crops early, good looking ground cover, plenty of green leaf material. Planting in wider rows and using lower planting rates is desirable for no till.
Wider rows means there will be less disturbance to the natural cycle of the microbes. When you do have a good year it will still be as good or better than high plant populations as wheat will tiller and canola will branch out like a tree and will have a longer growing season. Also roots will go further into the ground. [Reduced Cultivation] Traditionally, cultivation was used to control weeds and prepare a firm seed bed, or so we thought. Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century.
Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century
This is called conventional farming and is certainly conventional thinking. Cultivation is the enemy of no till. It breaks down natural structure in the soils. t demolishes the housing, the housing estates the elements require to live in. The elements that are required to break down natural biomass. It opens up the soil to the atmosphere resulting in massive moisture loss.
When someone says they are cultivating to get ready for planting, what they are actually doing is creating fines, knocking down houses where these elements live that encourage microbial activity, and they are also getting rid of moisture. These methods are not sustainable in no till. Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century.
In no till law, cultivation is a capital offence. [Food and Water] Everything needs food and water, some farmers say: “we are not farming the land, we are farming moisture”. Food and moisture is the secret to successful farming, voids are the housing system to accommodate the organisms and the elements needed to thrive, if rain is stored where it falls, oxygen will be mobile and food will be available.
Even if you think you have loads of moisture, oxygen or food, it can always be improved. I’m sure if you conserve moisture better and use it where it falls and on the money part of the crop, you can increase your yield. [Plant Density] I advocate a reduction in plant density, and some might say that is a contradiction in terms, if you want higher yield you want higher plant density. Reduce the plant density and plant on wider spacing’s. Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century.
If you plant on narrow spacing’s and high plant populations to get a quick cover crop to combat weeds, you are merely replacing one weed with another and the moisture will be gone in times of stress. Unfortunately, all these plants will suck up as much moisture as is available with a high risk that there will be no moisture left to fill the head. I have listened to farmers justify their farming methods using high planting rates.
They say it was a really good crop early on but unfortunately, it just did not continue to rain. My argument is that it did rain, however, the moisture was used or I’m going to say abused, early on generating loads of plants and green leaf and ensuring there was no moisture left to fill the head. Biomass is good but it is only good if it is decomposed and used to manufacture grain, the money part of crop production. Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century.
There is no upside to growing biomass at the expense of filling the head. It’s better to plant in wider spacing’s as narrower spacing’s rease the risk of cracking between the rows during planting which means more interruption to the housing system of microbial activity, greater moisture loss and higher weed population germination, all enemies of good no till practices.
Wider spacing’s ill ensure the available moisture takes on slow release characteristics, there will still be moisture to fill the head, the money part of the farming season. Filling the head is the money part of the season, at’s what we are doing, we are growing grain to fill the head. It matters nothing what the crop looked like back in June or whenever if it does not yield at harvest, all our efforts must go towards the money end of the season. Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century.
It’s no good to decry the season as the cause of failure, near failure, or a reduced yield, citing a lack of moisture, you must manage the farming system o ensure some of the moisture is stored to fill the head in September/October and not grow worthless green leaf material in June.
If you insist on using crop as ground cover to combat weed growth in the winter, you should consider going the full hog and grow a legume as a cover crop which you may or may not harvest. [Weed Control] Weeds are of course the enemy of most types of farming, it is no exception with no till. Weeds are the enemy. Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century.
There is no point in reducing the plant population if you are going to let weeds run riot. Weeds are plants that compete with the crop for moisture, weeds take up the space in the ground and above the ground, weeds take the light and moisture from the weather, weeds, weeds, weeds, weedsan enemy of no till.
The best way to eliminate weeds is to prevent them from germinating. If they don’t seed, you don’t need a regime to kill them. ray the headlands. Tell your neighbour that you both need to work on containing weed germination. Consult your agronomist, kill weeds as they germinate, use rotations to control infestations, use a hay crop and cut it before weed seeds go forth to spread their evil seeds. Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century.
Crop rotation is perhaps one of the most lethal tools in a no till operation. Proper rotations can reduce or eliminate disease, it can be used to manipulate the voids in the soils, it can be used to replenish nitrogen in the soils. Crop rotation can also be used to produce a root system to create a conduit for moisture to go deeper, it can be used as a tool in weed management.
We can use crop rotation to improve the voids in the soil along with weed management and of course not forgetting the economic realities from year to year. Canola for example canola can improve the texture in the soil with its tap root creating voids and even a conduit for water to go deeper. nola also lends itself to in-crop spraying of different families of weeds that may not be possible with cereals and may be a good tool in weed management. Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century.
Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century
Weed management is important in a no till system but it is best to implement a weed management program other than high plant population and other than the constant application of herbicides and dare I say other than cultivation. Low plant population will preserve the moisture in marginal areas and will give better yields and better quality grain, and that’s what we want. Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century.
Careful crop rotation can assist in the creation of voids, Rotting plant material can create voids in the soil, this can take a few years and over time the results will come. [Shelter] All living things need shelter. Shelter is provided in the form of ground cover, preferably a living crop but in any case living or dead. Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century.
mans will not thrive without shelter, so also with earthworms, termites and the like, the heat will be too much, there will be a moisture shortage and microbial activity will grind to a halt. Stubble retention, especially standing stubble will give some ground cover, it will protect emerging seedlings against the sun, it will slow down wind and water speed at ground level. Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century.
It is important to return organic material to the soil to feed bacteria and worms and termites and protect the soil during the summer sun. It is best left standing in its natural state. When it does rain, stubble will reduce evaporation from the soils caused by the severe suns. Standing stubble will slow down wind and water speed at ground level. Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century.
The main obstacle to stubble retention is the ability of planting equipment to plant through high stubble loads and obtain good soil to seed contact. This is the main reason farmers generally turn away from tines to discs but there are many more reasons why planting using discs is preferable in a not till system. Burning Off Stubble Burning off stubble is one of the enemy of no till.
Burning off stubble is a waste of money, a waste of energy, a waste of biomass that could otherwise be converted into food to feed your crop. The death penalty should be introduced for those burning off stubble. It causes pollution, it is deleterious to the community and country and is wanton waste of perfectly good fuel vital to grow crops and contributes to poor soil structure. Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century.
It is a waste of money and will effect growing of crops for years to come. [Reduce the Use of Chemicals] Nature is not used to being sprayed every day with chemicals. Chemicals are artificial and in large doses, stifling to microbial activity and deadly to worms and termites. Chemicals in the form of fertilizer, herbicides, insect Use low fertiliser rates but apply more often and alternate with natural manures.
Intensive applications of fertilizers may be inefficient and many may be leached and reside outside of the area of activity. Intensive applications may also kill off microbial activity and animals crucial to breaking down the biomass which provide food for crop production. Plant wider to reduce the use of fungicides, instigate a crop rotational plan aimed at eradicating weed infestations and disease. Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century.
Spray when necessary but if you plan ahead, then chemical usage can be reduced. [Discs V’s Tines] Firstly, tines cause too much soil disturbance, they interrupting the natural microbial activity of the soils. It’s like a bulldozer travelling across the villages, the houses in which the supporting elements live, they’re all are demolished.
ondly, the disturbance can create moisture loss by opening up the soil. Thirdly, they can and do create fines which fill the precious voids nature needs to store moisture and lastly, in rocky ground, tines will pull up rocks eventually covering the top of the ground with rocks and they will need to be picked. Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century.
We must make a trench into which to place the seed, this trench is best made using a disc as it will knock down less houses, destroy less habitat, open up less soil to the atmosphere and produce less fines. Discs planters are desirable for no till planting. [Double Disc] Double discs first, a view from the sky. We’ve got a disc on each side opening up the soil.
The boot is on the middle, and it drops the seed down. At planting depth, these two disc will have to come together, to open up the ground in the middle, so that the seed drops down. Let’s examine the section looking at the soil from the back. These are the forces the disc have to exert to create the trench, on both sides. It’s using compressive force. Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century.
Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century
So the disadvantages of a double disc opener include: Soil Compaction, , if these soils are hard, it’s going to be difficult to push soil away to form the trench. Imagine ground already being hard, it’s going to resist and push back against the disc. or every action, is an equal and opposite reaction.
You’re going to get a lot more compaction in this area. It goes without saying that this is the main drawback with using double disc openers. When you use these compressive forces, it will collapse the voids, create more fines, and worst of all you’re going to create smearing. It will smear the sides of the trench and if it’s moist at all, then the sun shines on it, and it will dry it out and it will be hard as a rock. Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century.
Because the forces required are much higher, you’re going to have more stress on the components. We don’t want to create extra work for the components, we don’t want to create extra compression on the soils, the soils that are right beside the seed, and we don’t want smearing. [Single Disc Horizontal Angle Only] Some manufactures have a set up with the disc that open the soil with the disc angled in the direction to travel only. Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century.
That’s our planting boot, what happens in that case are the compressive forces are that way. Once again very difficult to form a trench by using compressive forces. The compressive forces in the soils are going to push back. In hard soils it’s a lot more difficult when you brush the soils together, they are going to form fines. his is detrimental to the whole idea of no till. It compresses the soils and you get smearing. Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century.
And farmers often complain about, particularly in compacted or wet soil, you get smearing on the sides of the trench. That’s what causes it. Again due to compressive forces, there will be high stress on components and brackets. [Tobin Geometry] What are we looking for? We are looking for a disc that’s angled to both directions. If that’s the direction of travel, and this is looking from behind. Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century.
When the disc is angled to both the direction of travel and the vertical. This is the planting depth. The forces used to make this trench are going to be tensile forces they’re going to tear the soil apart. This here has got many advantages: It’s not using compressive forces. It is easier to penetrate. The soil is a lot more likely to peel away. Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century.
It eliminates smearing. and because it’s easy to penetrate that throws up other advantages, it’s going to be easier on the bearings, the bracketry, etc all the components of the disc. [Disc Diameter] It’s common to have discs down to 400mm diameter. Our Tobin is 610mm, and there are a number of advantages to having a large diameter disc. The bearing is out of the harm’s way, of dirt, trash, logs, and stones, rocks, rather than with the small disc. Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century.
The green attack angle of the larger disc has a much better chance of pushing the stubble against the soil and using the resistance of the soil to get a clean cut, and for longer also resulting in a more effective cut. Whereas, the red attack angle of the small disc and it has a good chance of pushing the stubble along in front of it rather than cutting it, will be more likely to bull nose.
In rocky conditions the large disc will roll over the rocks more easily than a smaller disc, increasing the life of the bearings and components. [Sticky Soils] Sticky soils in particular have been a challenge for disc planter manufactures. And what actually happens? We have a boot going down in the shadow of the disc, releasing seed into the soil. Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century.
The boot and the seed drop must be protected by a scraper of some sort and there are many different types of scrapers. he scraper acts as a conduit for the seed into the ground after it leaves the boot. It’s vital that the scraper does not block up. The more sticker the soils are the greater the tension must be on the scraper against the disc to prevent mud build up As a result the scraper will act as a brake on the disc’s rotation. Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century.
The rotation of the disc is cause by the friction of the ground. The ground is pulling on this small disc and this is the leverage its has. When you go from 400mm to 600mm you’ve increase to 1 ½ time the leverage, 50% more leverage. And we all know the more leverage is going to generate better toque and the easier it is to turn. Much easier to keep operating in difficult sticky conditions, operate all day. Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century.
[Getting started] Most farmers have used and abused their farms over the years, many have cultivated the soils year after year creating fines and profiles with little chance of storing moisture or fostering any microbial activity. Most farms have a hard pan to some extent or another. A hard pan is formed by tined machines creating fines year after year, the fines then fall to the bottom of the cultivation level and when they get wet, they will compact and when they dry out, they will set like concrete. Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century.
The road to no till does have some rules and twists and turns and farmers need to monitor the conditions. A soil test at the beginning will determine the condition of the soil and it should be remedied to fast track the foray into no till Stubble retention and natural microbial activity will eventually assist to balance the nutrients in the soils but it is wise to apply whatever fertilizers or trace elements are deemed necessary at the beginning to fast track soil recuperation. Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century.
If your farm has a hard pan, deep ripping at the outset to allow crops to intercept moisture and nutrients at depth is advisable. However the first and most important step to no-till is commitment. Having heard what I have said today will give you a better insight into what’s required, why we are doing no-till. Why we are creating an environment for the activity to flourish. Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century.
For worms and termites and microbial activity to breakdown the biomass. Everything rotates around creating that environment, creating voids for moisture. If you are not convinced that’s what needs to be done, then you are in trouble to begin with. The first step to overcoming a problem is to realise, to admit that you have got one. Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century.
So commitment is the biggest thing. It’s been a pleasure to bring you my thoughts on no till, they are my thoughts based on experiences over the last twenty or so years. thank you very much for listening and happy cropping. Mechanization on the Farm in the Early 20th Century.