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Competency Area 5: Soil conservation AEM

PO 51.  Understand the adaptability of tillage systems to various cropping systems.

  1. Livestock-based systems
  2. Conventional cash grain systems
  3. Low-input and organic cash grain systems
  4. Horticultural and vegetable production systems

Livestock-based systems

  • Residue Return: Care needs to be taken to return organic residues (manure) to the soil, grow cover crops in fallow periods, and minimize further organic losses through intensive tillage.
  • Crop Diversity: Many crops can be grown for forage to increase crop diversity.  High crop diversity can be used to great advantage in permanent no-tillage systems.  Since different crops are planted at different row spacings, ridge tillage is not a favored tillage system.
  • Soil Compaction: Manure application and timely harvest during fall, winter and spring when soils are still wet can pose a significant compaction risk.  If compaction is caused, surface or deep tillage may be required to alleviate its effects.
  • Soil Erosion: It is important to maintain living vegetation the land to protect the soil from erosion and compaction, and to take up nutrients that may be released when organic matter from manure applications is decomposing.  Cover crops can be established with no-tillage practices.
  • Soil Warming: Soil warming may be a concern with no-till systems when corn is planted into a high residue cover that remains from the previous corn grain harvest.  Zone tillage may be a practical alternative.
  • Weed Control: Plow tillage is the best weed control option besides herbicides to control perennials and many annuals.
  • Nutrient Management: If nitrogen conservation is a major goal, injection may be the best option. Alternatively, plow or mulch tillage may achieve the same goal, but is often challenging immediately after manure application.

Conventional Cash Grain systems

  • Residue Return: Most residue is left in the field, which helps with organic matter conservation and erosion control.  The return of crop residues to soil can compensate for some of the organic matter losses due to tillage.
  • Crop Diversity: Crop diversity may be low and can pose a problem for soil quality and successful no tillage.  Mulch tillage is preferred over plow tillage to limit soil impacts.  Ridge tillage is an option in crops planted at the same row spacing.  Zone tillage can be used for corn if early soil warming is a concern.
  • Soil Compaction: Large grain carts with high axle loads pose a subsoil compaction threat.  Grain trucks with road tires should be kept out of the fields.  Continuous no-tillage may be impossible if ruts are created in much of the field.
  • Soil Erosion: Because mulch is left in field, no-tillage, zone tillage or ridge tillage are used. Mulch tillage may not be possible after soybeans or small grains harvested for grain because residue cover will be reduce to less than 30%.
  • Weed Control: Plow tillage may be required to eliminate severe weed problems.
  • Nutrient management: Anhydrous ammonia needs to be injected with low disturbance knives, and secondary tillage may be required prior to planting.