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Tips for trying no-till

Some of the favorite conversations on the Farmers For The Future network are those where a young or beginning farmer is wanting to make a change in an existing operation and the community provides honest advice based on personal experience. That is the case with Marlin Gloor of Charlotte, Michigan. He is considering changing tillage practices, and he seeks guidance from the social network.

“I would like to start converting to no-till,” he says. “What is the best way to prepare the soil? The ground is slightly sloped and mostly loam.”

Network member Mike Hannewald offers his thoughts, advising to first evaluate the farm's drainage ability. “Do you need to add tile or surface drainage of some type?” he asks. “We have tried some no-till on our farm (in northwest Ohio) and have found that in a wet year, no-till doesn't work very well if we don't have adequate drainage.”

Second, he says, is to evaluate the farm's current fertility levels. “One of the best investments you can make is to soil-sample and add lime if needed. Just make sure that, in addition to adding lime based on pH, you are also taking into consideration your calcium and magnesium levels. Different kinds of lime have different calcium and magnesium levels, and applying the wrong type of lime can do more harm than good. That's because the calcium-magnesium ratio is just as important as pH when it comes to maximizing nutrient availability. While you can apply lime anytime, I would recommend working it in before beginning no-till, because doing so will help it become effective in a shorter period of time.”

“The easiest thing to do is sell your tillage equipment,” says discussion group contributor Abram V. “Buy a good no-till drill. Plant some cover crops when you can in the fall.”

“All great suggestions,” adds John Dobberstein. “You want to get the soil prepared ahead of time, because the best no-till systems have the least amount of soil disturbance possible. The best advice I can pass along is to talk to other no-tillers. You can learn from their trials and tribulations.

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