The first step to a successful no-till regimen begins with uniform straw and chaff distribution during wheat harvest.
Now is the time for producers to install straw choppers and chaff spreaders on their own combines, or to contact custom-harvesters to make sure that they are properly equipped for the harvest season, says Brian Lindley, executive director of No-Till on the Plains, Inc.
With high fuel prices and dry weather plaguing Plains regions, producers considering the move to no-tillage must take this necessary first step at harvest the year prior. How straw and chaff is managed the preceding year will strongly impact next year's crop production.
Uniform distribution of straw is vital in a no-till system and extensive research has shown soil moisture is increased when crop residue and stubble are left standing on a field. Any successful garden is an example of the importance of mulch. Properly spread straw assists water soaking into the soil, plus the mulch at the surface reduces water loss from evaporation. Every ton of mulch retained on a field translates directly into more moisture available to the next crop and enhanced yield potential.
"Management of straw and chaff is critical," says Brian Lindley, No-Till on the Plains executive director. "This is one of the important first steps that new no-tillers need to consider - start with fields where the straw and chaff from the previous crop was properly spread."
High-speed straw choppers on today's newer machines do a great job of spreading residue, Lindley says. On older choppers, sharpen knives, and adjust the vanes. Speed-up kits are available for some spinner spreaders. The goal is to spread straw and chaff the width of the header.
South Dakota farm manager Dan Forgey advocates the use of a high-speed chopper over a regular chopper.
"A high-speed fine-cut chopper does not cost - it pays," he says. "We rely on our chopper rather than a drag [heavy harrow]."
Forgey, originally from Oklahoma, is a 14-year no-tiller and has experienced improved soil structure, enhanced water infiltration, higher yields, and higher organic matter.