No-Till and Crop Rotation

Can a no-till cropping system be profitable in the first three years after converting from conventional tillage?
Yes, no-till cropping systems can be profitable in the first few years after conversion. Often times you will hear producers say there is a “yield drag” when converting to no-till from conventional tillage. This observed yield drag is often a result of learning how to manage an entirely new system. If a producer is prepared and has taken the right steps profitability should be equal or greater than conventional tillage systems.

Will crop rotation really increase my yields and ultimately my profitability?
Yes, it has been proven that a good rotation involving broadleaves and grasses will increase yield when compared to a continuous cropping system. Growing a crop such as winter wheat year after year will increase yield loss due to disease, insects, and weeds. Alternating crops will help break those disease, insect, and weed cycles.

What are the benefits of no-till?
Perhaps the biggest benefit of no-till is the reduction in erosion. Soil is a non-renewable resource so erosion from wind and water can have long-term consequences.


Why is correcting soil acidity important?
Soil pH impacts the growth of plant roots, availability of plant essential nutrients and effectiveness of many herbicides. Correcting soil acidity will allow for better root growth which will increase survivability in extreme conditions and allow inputs (fertilizer and herbicides) to perform at optimum levels.

What makes soil acidity bad?
When the pH of a soil falls below 6.0, aluminum (Al) and manganese (Mn) become more available. High levels Al and Mn are toxic to plants. The soils of the central Great Plains are naturally high in Al and soil acidity typically results in Al toxicity. Aluminum toxicity results in pruned root growth and a plant which appears phosphorus deficient and/or droughty.

Does lime work in No-till?
Yes, liming no-till and perennial forage systems is of benefit if soil pH is below critical level. With rainfall and time the lime applied will improve the soil pH in the top 3 inches of soil.

Dos no-till impact how soil acidity forms?
Yes, the application of ammonia and urea based nitrogen fertilizers has a negative impact on soil pH. In a no-till or perennial forage system nitrogen fertilizer is commonly applied to the soil surface and not incorporated. This means the acidifying affect of the nitrogen in impacting 2-3 inches of soil not 6-7 when incorporated, doubling the effect. It is recommended to collect 0-3 inch soil samples in no-till fields every 3 to 5 years to monitor soil pH.  The 0-3 inch soil sample should not be used for any soil nutrient recommendation.

Are there options other than using Ag lime? 

Alternate options for agriculture lime are available.  Some such as water treatment lime are good alternative sources when applied properly.  Others, such as banding pelletized lime with the seed are not.  A popular method of counteracting soil acidity is the banding of phosphorus (P) with the seed. The use of DAP (18-46-0) or MAP (11-52-0) applied with the seed, binds with the aluminum reducing the level of toxicity.  While banding P does help with soil acidity it only mask the problem and allows it to worsen, many refer to its impact as a band aid.

Additionally in wheat and canola production, industry and researchers have identified aluminum tolerant varieties that perform better than susceptible varieties under acidic soil conditions. Contact your local extension educator to discuss lime and varietal options.

Nutrient Management

What are the benefits of soil testing?
Soil testing provides the producer with an opportunity to account for nutrient and pH levels of a given field. Without proper soil testing any fertilizer that is applied is essentially based on a hunch or past experience. The use of soil testing refines nutrient management strategies yielding in improved efficiencies and outputs.

What is a good soil sample?
A good soil sample is one that consists of 16 to 20 cores; a core is one plug of a soil probe, per field or area of interest. These cores should be completely mixing in a clean bucket until the soil is homogenous (all the same). Soil samples should be taken to a 6 inch depth for top-soil and 6-18 inch depth for sub soil samples. Sub-soil samples are important in tap rooted crops such as Canola and Cotton.

Does using fertilizer make a soil dependent upon fertilizer?
No, the use of commercial fertilizer does not make a soil dependent upon synthetic additions.  It does increase the productivity of a soil, which will eventually return to nature levels if fertilization is stopped.

Does Anhydrous Ammonia ruin a soil?
No, Anhydrous Ammonia (82-0-0) is no “harder” on a soil than any other nitrogen fertilizer. It acidification of the soil is equal to that of Urea (46-0-0). Its reported negative effects on soil quality have been disproven by researchers.
Newsletter on this topic

What is the best method of applying phosphorus?
Any time phosphorus (P) can be banded in the soil the efficiency is increase. Phosphorus is highly chemically reactive and will quickly be tied up (1 to 2 yr) in the soil by Aluminum, Iron, Calcium and other cations. The banding of P concentrates the fertilizer in a small zone which slows the tie up by the soil cations making it plant available for a longer period of time.

Can a specialty fertilizer be used, and less of it, to replace normal fertilizer sources? 
No, plants need a specific amount of nutrient per unit of production. Specific management strategies increase the efficiency of the fertilizer, i.e. in-season nitrogen application is more efficient than pre-plant nitrogen applications.  In most cases it is the method of application that improves efficiency, not the actual product used.