Justine Mukota wrote to us: Good afternoon, please send info on conservation farming with no-till. Will appreciate your feedback.
It is not possible to give a comprehensive guide on conservation agriculture and minimum tillage in one article, but here are some pointers and web-sites that will get you started.
Moving away from conventional land cultivation to no-till planting is a little daunting at first. But after the first few seasons, the farmer who has changed to no-till will probably wonder why he, or she, didn’t make the change long before.
The primary aim of no-till, or conservation tillage, is to improve soil structure. Farmers say that the return of soil life is pretty obvious, hallmarked by the presence of more earthworms, but expanding across the range right down to microscopic biota.
Information: Before changing the practice, the farmer should understand the principles of no-till, and prepare to do the homework. Weed control in no-till farming is particularly important.
Soil surveys: fertiliser companies will generally do this job to help farmers put down the required lime, and to correct the soil for mineral and trace element deficiencies. Avoid soils with bad drainage and level the surface. It may be necessary to break a compaction layer before planting. Farmers call this the plough shield.
Cover: There must be enough mulch, or crop residue on the soil surface for productive no-till planting. Cover holds the soil moisture, keeps soil temperatures down, keeps the weeds out and provides the organic inputs to build soil structure. Crop rotation is important but equally important – no-till lands are never left fallow, so planting cover crops (also known as green manure) is part of the method.
Equipment: Capital investment in no-till planters is fairly high for commercial farmers, but on the plus side they can sell their mouldboard ploughs and discs to recover money. With machinery available from impressive looking 18-row planters to a humble but effective hand-held implement conservation tillage is possible for farmers across the range.
For information, ask farmers who practice no-till in your area and speak to the local fertiliser and seed companies.