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Norman Hosts Annual No-Till Conference

Norman Hosts Annual No-Till Conference

A business owner takes notes during a session at the state no-till conference.
A business owner takes notes during a session at the state no-till conference. He will take this information back to his business which provides products for no-till farmers.

Producers listen as presenter John Solie talks about equipment needed to deal with soil compaction from livestock.
Producers listen as presenter John Solie talks about equipment needed to deal with soil compaction from livestock. Many Oklahoma no-till participants produce crops and cattle.

Neighboring fields. Left: Erosion after an August 2007 rain storm.
Neighboring fields. Left: Erosion after an August 2007 rain storm.
Right: No-till field after the June 2008 harvest.

Over 230 producers attended the 2010 Oklahoma No-till conference in Norman February 8-9. No-till farming is increasing in awareness across the state as more and more farmers turn to methods that help to retain moisture in the challenging Oklahoma conditions as well as help produce a higher yielding crop.

Presenter Alan Mindemann started his farm with no-till in mind, “my neighbors kept telling me none of my ideas were going to work. Now they are trying to catch up.” He is kind of a fish out of water in that most of his neighbors are cattle producers and he started producing strictly crops. His more than 240 acres have been dedicated to no-till techniques since 1998. Mindemann says the biggest reason producers are unsure of no-till measures is that it is hard to see the big picture.

Mindemann says, “They are thinking about how much they will get for this year’s yield. What they don’t see right away is the benefits to the crops and to the land far into the future. Each generation of my family destroyed a little more of the resource. I am making it go the other way in hopes of making it better for future generations”

Like Mindemann, Larry Cochran didn’t mind being one of the first in Alfalfa County to turn all of his acreage into no-till. He said the driving factor in pursuing no-till was the cost of labor. Four years into the change he is seeing greater results for his efforts. He has reduced his cattle herds and is going to continue reducing them to make room for more acres to convert to no-till. He says that his erosion has reduced and his soil is becoming more mellow. Cochran says the first five years of transition can be rough but he started to see significant progress after just the first three years.

One other problem facing producers is many agricultural economists will say that no-till isn’t worth it. Producers may be paying less for diesel but they will pay more for seed and for chemicals. It is estimated that the per-acre cost doesn’t change much. Producers who are using no-till, however, report that their crops are becoming more productive and bring in more revenue. Add to that the pest and nutrient control benefits of crop rotation and cover crops, producers say they see fewer production problems and they almost never have to re-plant. For most attendees limiting erosion may not be their main focus but it is a nice side effect to the process. No-till practices help to keep valuable top soil in place. Another positive aspect is producers have more variety of crops to sell.

Curtis McMahan produces milo, wheat and soy beans with his uncle and his grandfather in Alfalfa County. His uncle has been using no-till methods for ten years. McMahan has spent the last five years working with other producers who use tilling and he says the thing that makes the biggest impression is the ability of the no-till soil to hold moisture.

“When you till, the soil dries out, you can dig down six inches and you still have dry, hard soil. With the no-till the top layer might be a little dry but when you get under that surface you can really feel the difference,” he says. McMahan is responsible for 500 acres of property and understands the challenges of growing crops in a part of the state that sees limited water resources through much of the year.

McMahan is a young farmer and eager to learn this relatively new method of farming. Larry Cochran says one of the challenges for the older generation of farmers is the huge learning curve for a management intense style of farming. Cochran says, “You have to learn new machinery, you have to learn about chemicals, you have to learn about new crops and their agronomy and their economy, it’s a lot to learn. I wish I was 20 years younger.”

Cochran used a Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to help secure the equipment he needed to become a pioneer in his community with no-till. The NRCS has a variety of programs to provide producers and landowners with technical and financial assistance in transitioning to conservation minded practices.

Conferences like Oklahoma’s the NRCS and through other farmers who are using no-till are the main ways producers are finding information about no-till practices that work locally. Alan Mendemann says he learns most of the information he uses from producers in South America and adapts what they teach him to his climate and conditions. He then takes what works with his crops to conferences like this one and tells others what he knows.

Mendemann says, “they have been using no-till practices in South America decades longer than we have so they have gone through much trial and error. A lot of great information has come out of that process.” He says sharing the information is an important part of being successful in no-till. For more information on about assistance available you can contact your local NRCS service center.

By Public Affairs Specialist Crystal Young
NRCS February 2010

Last Modified: 04/08/2010

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