By Top Crop Manager
January 23, 2015 - Each year, the Innovative Farmers Association of Ontario and BASF Canada recognize an Ontario grower as the Innovative Farmer of the Year. This year the award goes to Wayne Cantelon.
The Cantelons began zone tillage in the early nineties and haven’t looked back, experimenting and fine-tuning a system that they now use on a large scale across a wide variety of soils in Huron County.
As more acres were added to the farm, the Cantelons had a decision to make: “do we add bigger conventional equipment or do we take a different direction?” Perhaps taking some lessons from history, they wanted to use less equipment, control soil erosion and be able to manage fertility. But first and foremost, they had to make the economics work. That’s when Becker Farm Equipment (Exeter, Ont.) brought in a Trans-Till demo unit and they tried zone tilling.
Through a bit of experimentation, Wayne was convinced to break away from conventional tillage. In the first five years, he ran a side-by-side comparison and he says that the zone tilled fields did as good as or better than conventional and were generally drier as well. Wayne recalls the first year was the only time the conventional plot pulled ahead and that was because they hadn’t yet found a way to add fertility into the zones. Once they solved that problem, they were sold on it.
Wayne continues, “Conventional might look a bit showier but it didn’t mean anything when the combine went through.”
The Cantelons grow a rotation of corn, soys, white beans and wheat, zone tilling the corn and no-tilling the soys and wheat. They put down P and K in the zones in the fall, follow in the spring with a starter mix of 30-70-20-12S-1Z and later side-dress nitrogen. They built a folding toolbar with coulters to side-dress dry urea every 60 inches. Scott says this is an important part of their program: “It lets us control the amount of nitrogen. We can vary the rate and use almost 20 per cent less that what most would.” More recently, they’ve had success planting oats and radish down with the dry fertilizer in the fall, admitting that it’s not a perfect system because seeding and fertilizer depths don’t jive.
Still, the innovation continues at Cantelon Farms with cover crops. Last September, they tried aerial seeding 200 acres of cereal rye into corn with some success. Though the Cantelons have long put red clover after wheat, this year they have 250 acres into an eight species mix. While Scott plans to zone till his field this fall, Wayne wants to pull zones in the spring and kill off the cover crop just after he’s planted the corn. The rationale is that living roots take up more moisture than dead ones, so they will dry the soil more quickly.
“One thing I’ve noticed on the cover crops,” adds Wayne, “is that when we put something green in our wheat stubble, there’s something about that combination that the worms and the biology must really like. When we come back and do a spring zone, even the wheat stubble is gone. And the proof is there, you can see all the worm tents.”
Wayne continues, “we really don’t understand what’s going on underneath the ground.” He believes agriculture needs more farm level research to better understand nature’s soil biology. “This isn’t something that you can just bottle up and sell.”
Not wary of sharing trade secrets, both Wayne and Scott keep in touch with others on social media, to spur on their collective understanding.