Tillage Time?

I think we can all agree that the minimum- and no-till production systems much of the Prairies have adopted are a good thing.

It holds the soil down, preventing wind and water erosion, it’s generally an environmental winner and perhaps even more importantly it was an economic home run for growers, dramatically reducing expense and effort by eliminating multiple spring field operations.

At the same time I think it’s important we all acknowledge that it’s a new system. For roughly 12,000 years the human species raised annual grain crops using regular tillage, constantly refining our practices over time. Now that we’ve settled on a new and we think better system of raising our sustenance, is there any reason to think that evolutionary process as we learn more about what we’re doing, and the ins-and-outs of it, should stop?

One of the main reasons a lot of farmers switched to zero till was soil conservation. It’s no mistake that it was on the dry plains of North Dakota, southwestern Manitoba and southern Saskatchewan that the system was really refined and came into its own. Ordinarily that goal is an admirable one for much of the Prairies. After all the 19th century explorer and surveyor John Palliser, of Palliser Triangle fame, once wrote much of the region off as an uninhabitable desert, and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s is a memory that still resonates with many farm families, still familiar with the first-person accounts of their grandparents.

The truth, however, is that lack of moisture has been the last thing the eastern Prairies have been worried about lately. In much of this region the problem has been too much moisture. Combining too much moisture with a tillage system designed to conserve it isn’t necessarily going to be a winner, and a lot of the farmers in this area are now looking at problems that will only reveal themselves when conditions get dryer.

A large southern Saskatchewan grower I’m familiar with, for example, has been growing some really nice wheat crops the past few years. But last summer, when we went out into his field and pulled some plants, there really wasn’t much of a root system present at all. They went down a couple inches, turned sideways for a bit, then just sort of petered out. He’s been getting the nice crops because of the ample moisture, but when that changes, and there are some signs the region may be entering a dry cycle again, I think he’ll be very disappointed with what he sees.

There is no simple black and white answer due to the many variables involved.  However, that’s where BioAgronics’ 36 years of practical field experience and technology can help provide a road map and practical solutions for your farm.


-Ed Mayer, President, BioAgronics