Farmers Not Sure About "No Till" Advice This Fall Due to Drought

By Dave Franzman, Reporter

LINN COUNTY, Iowa - For farmers and everyone else—the more rain the better after this dry year weather wise.

And because of the drought some farm and soil conservation experts want farmers to do something different this fall. They hope farmers give up tilling harvested fields to prevent even more moisture from escaping the soil.

But while some farmers agree that's sound advice in this drought-plagued year, others will tell you eliminating fall plowing can mean a late start to spring planting and create other crop problems as well.

Like most farmers, Curt Zingula who farms near Central City, has a fall routine. After harvest, he'll put away the combine and come back with different equipment and till the ground. It's a step many farmers routinely take in the fall to help the plant residue decompose and get ready for a new crop in the spring.

But some experts are saying that digging up the soil this dry year will cause it to dry out even more and create more opportunities for erosion.

Zingula said he still plans to do a small amount of tilling. But he'll do less than in past years and do it more carefully.

"I agree with the idea of doing less tillage," Zingula said adding "I think if you keep residue on the surface it acts like a mulch for landscape plants—keeps the moisture from evaporating."

But Davie Kirk, who was harvesting corn a few miles away near Alburnett, isn't so sure that eliminating all tilling this fall is a good idea. Farmers like to plow or break up heavier, usually wet soils, so those fields will warm up sooner in the spring. Kirk fears farmers who don't follow their normal tilling routine this fall due to the drought will hurt their crop next year if timely rains do return.

"I'm going to keep doing the same tillage plan I've done for the last 40 years. I'm going to till my soil and bank on it raining," Kirk said.

But rain, not fall tilling, is still the most immediate concern for all farmers as they think about next spring and the next planting season. Kirk said if soil moisture doesn't improve, crops could easily suffer next year.

"We're short 14 to 16 inches of soil moisture. But we're optimists. It'll rain and the weather will change," he said.

And Kirk, like a lot of farmers, is hoping that change starts with the forecast of a rainy weekend.
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