Zone Tillage: Unlocking the Potential of No-Till Corn on Silt Loam and Silty-Clay Loam Soils in Northwestern Ohio
Seneca Soil and Water Conservation District
Basin Program Funds:
Farmers in the Seneca Soil and Water Conservation District area face a challenge to meet county phosphorus reduction goals and to meat conservation compliance requirements. No-tile farming methods have been reduced because early corn root development was slowed due to firm, dry soil conditions in the area.
As a result of the drought years of 1988 and 1991, farmer adoption of no-till corn has leveled to about 15,000 acres per year or about 18% of all Seneca County corn acres. This was due to the slow development of the early corn root caused by firm, dry soils. There are 30,000 acres of highly erodible land farmed by 400 farmers along with 280,000 acres in need of phosphorus reduction measures. By applying zone-tillage, as an alternative to no-till corn methods, it is hoped that erosion reduction will be enhanced leading higher yields and improve water quality practices. This project is designed to assist farmers in meeting county phosphorus reduction requirements on highly erodible land through the adoption and acceleration of zone or row tillage corn planting.
The project leased a 6100 planter equipped with Rawson coulters to farmers as an incentive to try out a new system. Nineteen (19) farmers planted 26 zone till corn demonstration plots on over 309 acres across the entire county. Zone tillage corn seemed to do a little better those no-till and conventional comparisons, especially when the previous crop was wheat with clover sod.
The Project was a success at demonstrating the use of zone-tillage as an economic alternative to no-till. Farmers felt that zone tilled soil gave some of the benefits of conventional tillage such as warmer soil temperatures and better seed placement and coverage while at the same time maintaining surface residues for erosion control. A farmer in LeClair, Iowa stated “Slow growth of young corn plant has been a problem with regular no-till for many farmers, with zone tillage, we're crossing over that threshold and getting good early growth and consistently better yields".
Zone tillage field plans have been prepared with all participants. This example plan records important information about the field, especially nutrient and pest management practices plus crop residue levels following harvest. As a spin-off to the zone till project, several local farmers are attempting fall or spring "strip tillage" as an alternative similar to zone till planting. The Phosphorus Reduction Steering Committee Chairman is planning a spring "strip-tillage demonstration".
Education/Information activities continue to inform landowners of the benefits of zone-tillage. Activities include articles in Cropwatch newsletter, and No-till Farmers magazine, tours of zone till sites, radio shows, and news articles.
The above efforts resulted in an erosion reduction of about 2.8 tons/acre/year on the 305 acres of demonstration, a total of approx. 854 tons for 1993. Significant additional erosion reductions will occur where farmers use their own zone till planters. Several of the 19 farmers converted their planting equipment to zone till after only one successful experience. The Great Lakes Basin fund was able to leverage an additional $3,300 in federal and nonfederal funds.
Contact: John P. Crumrine, 419-447-7073