You're a Regular King of the Post You're Liked 2 You're 10
Jul 15, 2012
Fairview, Alberta
2006 Z06
Good afternoon,

When I was still in a previous job I was responsible for trying to encourage farmers to adopt better seeding management practices. It is called zero till where you plant the crop, apply fertilizer without any of the normal previous tillage, cultivation, discing, harrowing etc. I had a pair of research trials that I had in place for 15 years so we could track things like changes is soil organic matter levels (increase in long term zero till) and nutrient cycling (also increases in long term zero till).

When I first tried Google Earth I found it funny that I was able to find the locations of my test plots and that the 3 of 9 strips that were zero tilled were a much lush, greener colour than the strips where tillage had occured. So not only were we able to measure higher crop yields under zero till but even from space zero till crops look better!

So where am I going you ask.

Well I just had to check some distances out and noticed that there were new satelite images from May 2012 for my area. So I went and found my residence and in the driveway you can see my yellow Sentra and Velocity Yellow Z06!!!! Now how cool is that I ask ya! My Z06 can be seen on Google Earth!!


Good evening Elf,

No doubt! It was always a sort of thrill for me when giving extension talks about zero till to not only have aerial pictures, ground pictures to show the producers but to also be able to tell them that zero till looks superior from a satelite!!

And just to always add emphasis to the talks most producers were generally rolling their eyes until I got to the point where I told them that I was also an active primary grain producer and that I also switched my seeding system to zero till. My fields have not been cultivated since 1992 to be honest with you and I wouldn't have enough space here to tell you on what a better quality of soil I have.

I always tell producers that Mother Nature has had a long time to evolve the best was to get a plant to grow and we don't see her tilling fields so why do we think it is so necessary.

The main problem with tillage is the time frame. Soils take a few 10,000 of years to evolve. Out farming career is maybe 60 years. The damage to soil from tillage in any one year is generally not that noticeable (exceptions of course events like the "Dirty Thirty's") so unless you can see side by side tilled and untilled soil it is hard to accept that the damage occurs. But when you see soil side by side where no tillage occurs and soil where tillage occurs you really get you eyes opened.

Soil organic matter increases, nutrient availablity, water holding capacity, water inflitration rates, biodiversity etc. all better under zero till. Even earthworms are happier!

I was lucky I stumbled into that job, it changed my life and I doubt I'd be farming still otherwise.............

Plus I'd probably not been able to buy a Z06, spent time with my son when he is with me, go on all his field trips. Yep, no fellow on earth luckier than this guy.

Even with CN and CP running interferance!




Around here, they call it "no till drill" There seems to be quite a bit of it done here these days. I grew up on a hilly farm and saw the effects of erosion. Stopping the erosion, cutting fuel costs and work time add up to big savings for farmers. It seems like a no brainer. Before herbicides, summer fallowing was common just to get rid of the weeds. There is always something new to learn, even if it is just to realize how nature actually works.
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Good morning Keith,

Yes, zero till, no-till, direct seeding, it is all good. Even for a flat-lander like myself it works wonders for your soil. You're quite correct that outside of the fact that it is so much better for the soil there are huge benefits in terms of capital investment, time and of course higher yields/reduced production costs thus higher profits.

Part of the problem is that soil science is such a young science all things considered. In my files I have some literature from Agriculture Canada from around 1920-1930 time frame where summerfallow was considered an example of "proper farm husbandry" which I'm pretty sure is a position they would not be taking today!

But they didn't understand back in those days that while crop yields would be higher the year following summerfallow that this happened not because the land "needed a rest" but because the tillage that took place oxidized the soil organic matter and released the stored up nutrients. But of course once released they were lost! Organic matter depletion was not something that was understood then as it is now.

It is enouraging no doubt that while I was viewed as a "wing-nut" for switching to zero till back in 1992 now I'm a pathfinder and leader instead!

I often wonder what the next significant change that will occur will be? The "holy grail" still wheat that could fix its own nitrogen from the atmosphere the way crops like field pea, soybean and alfalfa do. In my lifetime I hope.

The biggest stumbling block I found was pride. Having to tell producers that the way that they were managing their farms was actually damaging the soil. Who wants to be told that? But you can't let pride get in the way of doing a better job.

What is frightening is as high an adoption rate as we have in Canada you need to see what it is like in countries like Australia and Brazil - waaaaay ahead of us in Canada.

Every time fuel prices went up and farmers bellyached about it people like myself were actually secretly happy as it would make it more and more expensive to till.

What was the most bizare part of this is that the results of the replicated, field scale research plots was that there was a negative correlation between tillage and crop yields. That's right - the more you tilled the lower your yields were. That was the real head scratcher - producers were going out to till their fields and what they were accomplishing was reducing their yields with ever tillage pass they did!


Fascinating! This seems real important, but for a non-farmer you will have to walk me through the "zero till" procedure.

Let us suppose that I buy a small rural property and want to do this out with some plots of crops. The land is overgrown with weeds or grasses. What should I do before planting seed? What should I do when crops start to grow along with weeds and grasses? What should I do to the field after harvesting? Do I just need to leave the land alone for next year and start the cycle again?

Trying to figure out how to apply your findings in a small real-world situation. Thanks.
Good afternoon cramer,

In the olden days there was the thought that you had to stir the soil before you could plant it. As well it was a way to incorporate fertilizer into the soil when it was a common practice to broadcast it on the surface (thank God that is also a rare practice!) as you'd like to get it into the area where roots are and roots don't do so well on the surface of the soil or close thereto!

Thankfully about oh say 25 to 30 years ago some visonary types decided there had to be a better way. They had to make their seed drills themselves to accomplish a challenge:

How to put seed and fertilizer into the ground without prior tillage!

Another reason given to "justify" tillage operations was to kill weeds. Well thank God two things happened:

1)fuel prices went through the roof (we celebrated this in secret)
2)the price of a highly effective non-selective herbicide glyphosate (think Monsanto's Roundup) dropped from oh say $25 a liter to oh say $5 and about half that if you use generic stuff out of China.

So in a nut shell here is the way it goes:

1)Spring arrives (insert much Corvette driving after snow melts but before you can drive in fields)
2)spray fields with glyphosate to kill and weeds/volunteer crop growing
3)use zero till/ no-drill drill to apply seed and fertilizer in one pass
4)engage in more Corvette driving as crop germinates and emerges
5)spray herbicides to kill weeds in crop - depends on crop planted and major weeds growing
6)engage in more Corvette driving
7)some people spray glyphosate again just before harvest to kill weeds and force the crop to ripen - I don't myself but it is very common.
7)harvest crop
8)after harvest try to get rail cars from CN to sell grain otherwise wait for spring
9)get in final Corvette drives before snow flies!
10)repeat the next year

Now I could show you some pictures of the filthest, weedest mess I have ever seen and while I went in with a twice recommended rate of glyphosate it totally blew out the weeds and the barley crop that I seeded was awesome! Some of my favorite slides to use in extension talks actually.

Short but sweet and hopefully you can get an idea of what you looking at.

You may also want to consider getting it custom done by a neighbour who has the equipment (and is currently a zero till seeder himself) as the capital investment for farm equipment especially for a small farm could be prohibative.


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