Dorchester Farmer Proves Successful with Conservation Tillage
Ricky Rhode (right) of Dorchester County, SC, surveys the health of hisvegetation with NRCS District Conservationist Jeff Lucas.
by Amy M. Overstreet, USDA-NRCS
Communications and Marketing Specialist
Ricky Rhode of Dorchester County, SC, has a cotton field thatto some people is just unbelievable. "When I was planting this field, I hadpeople come by and ask me what I was doing—like I was crazy for attempting toplant into residue!" remarked Rhode. Skeptical observers told Rhode that itwouldn’t work. But, Rhode proved them all wrong when he planted strip-tillcotton and turned the field into a success story. Rhode has been working withJeff Lucas, NRCS district conservationist in St. George, SC, to practicecontinuous strip-till on 500 acresof cotton, corn, and soybeans.
Rhode co-manages R&R Farms with his brother Dennis. Liketheir father before them, the Rhode brothers have lived on this farm all theirlives and have a lot of pride in their work. Lucas praised the brothers bysaying, "They were willing to try conservation tillage and once theyrealized the benefits, they were determined to stick with it." They alsocooperate in field days and demonstration projects so that local farmers canalso see first hand the benefits of conservation tillage.
Back in the 1970’s, Rhode rented a no-till planter from theDorchester conservation district office. He also received cost-share to tryconservation tillage and is glad that he did. "If it wasn’t for NRCSincentive programs,I’m not sure I would have tried conservation tillage on myown," remarked Rhode. "When I realized the long-term cost savings,reduced wear and tear on my equipment, and the time savings, I was hooked."As a professional land surveyor, Rhode works on the farm in his"spare" time, which is limited. "I needed a way to save time andwith strip-till you can get the job done twice as fast without any loss in cropyields," he emphasized.
Rhode practices continuous no-till which means that nodisking is done on his fields. This method of conservation tillage involves nomechanical preparation before planting, This allowing organic matter to increasewhich improves soil health. In addition, conservation tillage, as opposed toconventional tillage, improves soil drainage, helps prevent erosion, and canimprove plant growth over time. Conservation tillage also cuts down on tractortrips across the field, and Rhode points out that this is essential with fuelprices going up. "I save money with strip-till because I don’t have toconstantly fuel up my equipment. Strip-till allows me to get my farming done andmaintain my land surveying company," confirmed Rhode.
NRCS' Lucas has been working with R&R Farms since hefirst came to work in Dorchester County six years ago. "They startedgrowing cotton about five years ago and because cotton is very time consuming,strip-till has really been a lifesaver for them," said Lucas. "Thereare start up costs associated with switching to conservation tillage such asbuying equipment, but in the long run, farmers can save money because theirequipment will last twice as long," he said.
Rhode tells other farmers about conservation tillage andencourages them to at least try it. "Some people don’t like strip-tillbecause it’s not pretty," he explained. Leaving the residue on the groundmight not look neat and tidy, but it’s best for the soil and for the farmertoo. "There has to be a full commitment on the farmer’s part in order forconservation tillage to work and many of them have to change age-old attitudeswhich might stop them from trying something new," advised Rhode.
Luckily Rhode was open-minded enough to try a new techniquethat has certainly worked out well for him. Now, when other farmers drive byR&R Farms and see Ricky Rhode planting directly into residue, they don’tseem so surprised. Instead, they get out and ask him what he’s doing to havesuch healthy crops, and he proudly tells them the benefits of conservationtillage.