Southwestern Oklahoma's landscape has seen a subtle change in recent years. Fields that were freshly plowed following harvest are now producing crops in the stubble of the previous season due to an increase in no-till production across the region -- and the acres in no-till are expected to continue to rise for the next several years.
"Over 13,000 acres have been converted because of our incentive program, but I know there are several thousand acres people have converted on their own. Whereas 10 years ago, there might have been only half the guys doing it," says Melissa Teague, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service Harmon County field office director. "The majority of the no-till in Harmon County was initiated within (the last) five to six years."
Robert Williams is one of those producers who has adopted a no-till management strategy. He rotates canola with winter wheat near Gould, Okla., and stopped cultivating his fields in 2009 after seeing the success in his neighbors' fields.
"We haven't plowed anything in several years, and sold all our plows but our disc," he says. "I'd see people do it, and it seemed like it was working pretty well, and I could see lots of advantages to it."
One advantage for southwest Oklahoma growers is the moisture retention in the soil. With the semi-arid climate, they are striving to conserve as much water as they can, even with irrigation. That has led to increased yields for some fields, even in dryland fields.
"We have increased dryland production, which is quite a surprise to me. I thought we'd give up some bushels for the advantages, but we haven't seen that," Williams says.
"I think a lot can be attributed to rising input costs and lack of help. We just don't have the available workforce we used to," Teague says. "They can cover the same amount of acres and not put the time in that they used to."
The main input cost producers are facing is chemicals, but Williams has reduced those applications because of the drought, which has also had negative effects on pests.
"We saw an increase in chemicals, but in a drought year, we don't have to spend as much money on chemicals. We only have to spray once because if there aren't weeds out there, you don't have to spray," he says.
The conversion to no-till is expected to continue increasing for the next several years, though many believe it will be at a slower rate. "I think to some degree, no-till acres will increase. After (producers) see it working for their neighbors, they might try it. I don't think we'll see the drastic increase that we've seen over the last five years," Teague says.