By Janet Kubat Willette
Agri News staff writer
Reprinted with permission
CHATFIELD, Minn. - Mike Stokes has noticed changes in his soil since he adopted Rawson tillage. After a while, he began to see more trash on the soil and more worm holes. The worms eat a lot of the husks, he said. The trash isn't a negative, it builds the soil and helps keep the soil in place. His yields have been pretty good, he said. Their yields are comparable with their neighbors who use conventional tillage, said his son, Mark, who farms with him.
The organic matter in their soil has increased and their fields are smooth, Mike said. And their diesel fuel usage has decreased, said Mike's wife, Carol. They start planting as early as everybody else and their emergence is better in wet soil conditions because they don't get a crust, Mark said.
The soil structure changes when reduced tillage is used, said Dave Copeland, district conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Olmsted County. The soil becomes more blocky and able to absorb more water. There isn't the hard pan layer where the tillage stops.
The Stokes have well-drained silt loam soils with a 6 percent to 12 percent slope. They raise oats, corn, soybeans and alfalfa. The oats are no-till drilled into soybean ground. Triticale is planted after corn is chopped in the fall. They have 125 black commercial cows. They feed out the calves and also buy feeders to finish.
One of their beef feedlots had a potential pollution problem, which they eliminated by putting it under a roof. They also worked with a grazing specialist to set up a grazing plan. They used the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to install fencing and a watering system that has four source wells.
They installed the fence last spring, put in the water pipeline over the summer and started rotating cattle in the paddocks in August. They keep the cattle in a paddock for two weeks and then out for six weeks.
They're learning how to manage grasses for optimal feed and regrowth. They've already noticed that the cattle like well water better than the creek. Copeland said the change to rotational grazing made sense for the Stokes and he's hopeful others in the neighborhood may give it a try. They didn't make the change just to reach a higher tier in the Conservation Security Program.
He counsels other landowners to set out their goals before coming to the conservation office. "Let's talk about your objectives, what your vision is, what your plan is, (then) let's identify programs," Copeland said. Don't tailor the plan to the program, he said.
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Bob Patton, Supervisor of the Energy and Environment Section
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