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Success of no-till disc openers is crop system dependent: Part II

Growers stress importance of adopting a 'systems approach' to no-till cropping.

November 20, 2007  By John Harapiak

28aBy definition, the concept of no-till crop production emphasizes minimizing
soil disturbance. A group of no-till growers using disc openers that are located
in the warmer and drier parts of the southern prairie region are attempting
to take this concept to a higher level than is achieved on most prairie no-till
farms. However, in order for this approach to be effective, the growers stress
the critical importance of using a specific, systems approach to crop production.

Maximizing crop residue cover
Doug Wright of Kando Farms located near Nobleford, Alberta, has been no-till
farming for 10 years. He switched from using a hoe/knife opener to a disc system
four years ago. One of the key benefits of this change has been the ability
to more easily develop a protective layer of decomposing crop residues on the
soil surface. Wright claims that the previous system resulted in more of the
residue being incorporated into the soil.

Fertilizer placement not main priority
The previous opener also had the ability to side-band fertilizer near the seedrow.
While this approach is generally recognized as the most effective way to apply
fertilizer, if necessary, Wright was prepared to make some sacrifice in fertilizer
placement. He felt this was essential in order for him to achieve some of the
other components of a disc based systems approach that he felt were important
to his evolving concept of no-till farming.


Crop and herbicide sequencing is critical
Wright uses a JD 1850 disc opener with a 10 inch row spacing that places the
fertilizer P and K requirements with the seed. He dribble-band applies his N
requirements. He uses a cereal-pulse-cereal-oilseed rotation on his farm that
helps take advantage of weed control rotations, crop sequencing for disease
and residue control, variations in crop rooting depth for greater soil moisture
recovery, improved water conservation and for maximizing equipment utilization.

Improving seeding is #1 priority
In addition, Wright states that, "Adopting the disc opener allows me to
seed with less soil disturbance, which is especially important for establishing
winter wheat and to reduce plugging problems when seeding into pea and lintel
stubble. I can also seed at a higher speed (i.e. 7mph vs. 4.5mph), therefore
enabling me to seed more acres per machine. The disc opener is also essential
for making it possible to effectively seed into stripper combined stubble and
also to seed into slightly frozen ground."

Disc opener handles tall stubble
Mark Lindstedt who farms near Lomond, Alberta, uses a JD 1890 disc opener on
7.5 inch spacing. He claims the greatest advantages of using this opener is
that it enables him to seed effectively into stubble from a crop combined with
a stripper header. "This allows me to seed using less horsepower, with
less moisture loss, less soil disturbance and better seed placement," claims
Lindstedt who has been no-till farming for 15 years but has only recently switched
to using a disc opener. Because this is a drier region, he includes some chemfallow
in his rotations and has fewer crop options than does Wright who farms in the
Dark Brown soil zone.

Sacrificing side-banding option
His previous hoe knife opener enabled him to seed-place or side-band all of
his fertilizer requirements, but it had a high draft requirement and often left
the seedbed prone to drying out rapidly. Now he will only be able to place P
and K fertilizer at the time of seeding. Lindstedt would prefer to dribble-band
liquid N fertilizer, but he does not have access to a local source and he is
somewhat concerned about having to broadcast apply granular urea, currently
the only option available to him.

Combining with stripper header essential
Lindstedt stresses the critical importance of using a combine equipped with
a stripper header for combining his crops as part of his systems approach to
no-till farming. He also emphasizes the importance of uniformly spreading the
crop residue even though less material is passing through the combine. To accomplish
this task, he has mounted a Redekop chaff spreader on his combine. By using
this approach to combining, Lindstedt feels that it is possible to combine almost
twice as fast and that the reduced volume of crop residue entering the combine
will significantly reduce the wear and tear on his harvesting equipment.

Taller, anchored stubble and chaff spreading
Because he farms in a relatively dry area, Lindstedt appreciates the extra snow-trapping
potential of the taller stubble that is left standing in the field. While most
seeding equipment would be unable to handle the taller, standing stubble, if
it is still anchored in the soil, seeding with a disc drill has not been a problem.
However, he emphasizes the critical importance of uniformly spreading the chaff
behind the combine as a key component to allow him to effectively use this systems
approach to no-till farming

System not suited for all of prairie region
Can this approach to no-till farming be extended beyond the drier regions of
the prairies? Undoubtedly, the use of no-till disc openers in the higher rainfall
regions where the volumes of crop residues are greater will pose challenges
to the wide spread adoption of no-till disc openers. The hoe/shank types of
openers certainly have an advantage in fields that contain a larger amount of
chopped crop residue present on the soil surface.

Best suited for drier regions
Disc openers appear to gain in popularity in some of the adjoining US states
where temperatures are higher and the growing seasons are longer. On that basis
alone, it would appear that there is good potential for using disc openers in
southern portions of Alberta and Saskatchewan. However, it is my opinion that
no-till disc openers are going to have a hard time dislodging the hoe/shank
based openers that dominate the northern prairie region where the growing season
is shorter and a greater risk of damaging spring frosts exists. -30-

See January 2006 issue, page 12 for Part I.

John Harapiak has approximately 40 years of western Canadian based
fertilizer related experience. He will continue to contribute stories to
Top Crop Manager. He can be contacted by e-mail at:



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