While some farmers are still wary of the no-till farming methods, others are taking the leap of faith and fully investing in the new farming craze. No-till farming means doing no-till or low-till farming to improve soil conditions and, in theory, boost yields and plant health. But no-till farming doesn’t mean no-effort. In fact, no-till farming will take a lot more planning and work in the beginning compared to till farming. If you’re no stranger to precision agriculture then you hopefully shouldn’t be too intimidated by this.
As popular as no-till farming is, most of us are still unsure how best to go about doing it correctly. Especially when you have a large area of farmland to manage with no-till methods. So that’s why we’ve compiled this article of facts, tips and ideas for how no-till farming can work and how to overcome some problems that you might not even realise you have. Reading this article can give you some great ideas for how to speed up the planting process on your farm.
The biggest problem no-till farmers face generally occurs around seeding time. Not every farmer has the cash to completely replace all their machinery and get in an expert to tell them how best to plant. So, we make do. We use our old planters, take a deep breath, get out there and get going. But this could be a huge mistake and cause a lot of problems for your farm – some you might not even realise are there. As a first time no-till farmer, these tips are invaluable.
Here are a few things you should consider in the face of slow planting conditions on your no-till farm, regardless of soils, climate, crops, experience and budget:
Naturally your first thought about speeding up planting time is to just put your foot down. Driving faster means faster planting. While that is true, you also create a new problem: vibrations.
Running a no-till farm often means that your fields are bumpy, uneven and left naturally rather than smoothed over and tilled with a plough. So, the faster you go over the soil, the bouncier it is going to be. Not only does this make it more difficult to be accurate with your planting, but it also increases vibrations where the entire seeder attachment is jumping up and down.
Furthermore, the faster your planter is going, the more distance you are travelling. As your seed leaves the planter and falls to the earth, it’s going to be travelling faster and will hit the ground at a different angle. This can cause all sorts of problems with seeds going everywhere – a real nightmare when it comes to harvest – and you might not even realise this is happening.
To reduce the problems of vibrations you have a couple options. Firstly, try adjusting the springs on your seeder to ensure that it’s calibrated right for the type of terrain you are planting on – remember to adjust it from field to field depending on the soil type, seeds and terrain.
If adjusting your springs isn’t making much difference for you, try adding more weight to the planter to stop it jumping around so much. If all else fails, you may need to buy a different machine, which is our next helpful point. If you’re not willing to change your methods and machines, perhaps no-till is no-good for you!
Investing in the Right Machines
Most modern farming machines are very clever. Some come with specific settings designed for no-till farms, so everything is pre-set and ready to go. Other machines are completely adjustable, so with the right know-how you can adjust each and very nut and bolt so it’s perfectly suited for no-till farming.
Start by reading (or skim reading) your manufacturers leaflet that came with the machine and doing some research online. You might find that others have found easy fixes to make those machines more no-till friendly. And don’t forget to share what you found out in the comments below.
Replacing all your machines with no-till pieces is out of budget for a lot of farmers, we know. But you still have options, including renting the machines and buying them with neighbours to share. There’s a lot of new tech out there, with newer pieces coming out every day. You don’t need to invest in the latest autonomous tractor, but an upgrade certainly won’t do you wrong.
If your machine just isn’t going to be easily turned into a no-till tool and you’re still serious about giving this no-till venture a go… check out our recommendations for new tractors and attachable parts that are specifically designed for no-till fields.
Our Recommended Machines:
Exact Emerge Planter by John Deere. This is a top-of the range type planter from one of the world’s most respected agricultural machinery producer. John Deere’s exact emerge planter could be all that your farm needs to run no-till successfully.
This machine has been specifically designed to ensure accurate seed planting at higher speeds. The machine works well at high speeds, delivering perfectly aimed seeds at both 5mph and 10mph. It achieves this by using a simple yet incredibly effective system of brushbelts that stay level with the ground and firmly ensure that all seeds are grasped and planted with precision. You will also need to buy John Deere’s active downforce system to have the Exact Emerge planter working at optimum.
Speed Tube by Precision Planter. One of the things we love most about Precision Planter is that they’re never afraid to invent new devices and add ons to a whole range of farming equipment, regardless of brand. Their Speed Tube planter system is quite something!
The clever system calculates the ground speed and increases the seed planting speed to match, reducing bounce and ensuring perfectly even rows every time. Just like John Deere they recommend that you use some downforce equipment when running in no-till fields – but this piece of equipment will run quite happily in tilled and no-tilled fields alike. It’s best to stick to around 8mph with this device, which isn’t as fast as the John Deere Exact Emerge Planter but it’s still pretty darn good.
Ensuring Your Machines Are Running Properly
Buying the machines is just the first step. Next you need to ensure they’re running correctly. You should always be doing a short test strip of your no-till field before you take the plunge and plant it all… but there are things you should be doing way way way in advance.
We have done a planter maintenance checklist in the past (search for it on our blog!) but we’ll just give you the important highlights here:
- Take everything apart and put it back together again. This might seem daunting but it will be well worth it to learn exactly how your planter works. Once you know the ins and the outs, you can quickly spot areas that need replacing and know how to quickly fix any jams while you’re half way through planting. You’ll also be able to find any blockages and ensure everything is running smoothly before you begin.
- Replace parts that come into contact with the seeds. These pieces need to be in tip top condition to ensure that your planter is accurate. A tiny crack or chip in the spoon, a slight twist in a tube or worn-down disc can be the difference between even, perfectly planted rows and a complete mess of a field.
Your planter won’t be able to cope with your new increased speeds if you don’t maintain it properly.
Consider Your Soil Before Planting
Your planter needs to be set up for the soil type you’re dealing with in your no-till fields.
First, you need to start by testing the soil. Look for clays, loams etc. but also consider how even the field is overall – are there hills? You should also be looking for stones, rocks and other things that would have been sorted by the tilling machine but are instead left for your planter to deal with.
The softness of the soil will impact how much downforce you need on the planter for example: too much on a soft soil and you’ll be planting at a depth that your seeds just aren’t meant to be sown at. But with too little downforce on a tough soil and you’ll be facing increased vibrations, shallow seed planting depth and irregular rows.
As your fields haven’t been tilled and mixed up, you also need to dig a little deeper to find out what the layers of soil are like. You might have a wonderfully soft, loamy top soil but dig a little deeper to seed planting depth and you’ll find that there’s a tough layer of clay… but this only runs halfway through your field, with the other half being loamy to a much deeper level. Learning about the composition of your field like this can be very enlightening. You might discover that you’ll plant seeds most efficiently by splitting the field in half, using double down force on one side while driving faster with less downforce on the other.
Checking your fields should be an essential farm practice for you, so if you don’t have the time to do it yourself, you need to employ a worker to do it for you. Alternatively, you could use high-tech drones or invite local universities and colleges to take field samples for their science department so you both can benefit from the analysis.
One thing we haven’t yet touched on is fertilisers. For many of us, it just makes sense to take care of fertilising and planting in one fell swoop: many of our planters are more than capable of spraying/dripping and planting at the same time. Having that fertiliser directly in contact with the seeds gives them an extra boost which you may really need if you’re dealing with tricky, un-tilled soils.
We’ve already established that planters can be adapted, modified or replaced to ensure that seeds are planted accurately at higher speeds, but what about fertiliser? Liquid moves differently to solid matter, like seeds, when you reach higher speeds. You need to ensure it isn’t spraying off in smaller droplets or falling at a different angle to your seeds, hitting the wrong patch of soil.
You have a few options:
- Using planters designed for no-till so the fertiliser is pre-set to fall with the seed correctly.
- Adjusting your existing planter by running test strips and calculating how the fertiliser spraying should be angled and timed to fall with the seeds.
- Fertilise the fields after you’ve planted the seeds so you can take your time and be accurate.
- Use a solid fertiliser that falls at the same speed/angle as the seeds.
- Don’t fertilise at all!
You can also have a look at Figaro’s drip irrigation system which removes the troubles of spraying the fertiliser all together. You can find an excellent blog article explaining what that’s all about on our blog here.
Increase Field Checks
We’ve just talked about taking soil samples and really analysing the soil conditions in your fields so you’re setting up your planter to work efficiently at full speed for your fields… but you also need to be checking the fields before and after.
Long term field checks where you can analyse in-depth more thoroughly and really focus on one particular area can not only throw up problem areas that you’ll need to prepare your planter for, but also give you a chance to do something about them.
If the area of soil is terrible for your planter there’s a good chance it will be terrible for your crops too. Consider low-till on these areas to get them up to a good soil consistency to match the rest of the field.
You also need to be checking the fields after you’ve been through with the planter. Running a simple test strip of land will allow you to check for any glaring errors that have occurred with the set up of the planter, but that doesn’t solve everything. You are still prone to having random errors here and there, plus without clear defined, tilled rows to guide you, you’re more likely to miss areas. To solve this you just need to do a few checks in different areas of your field once you’ve been round with the planter to ensure that you’ve been planting accurately the entire way around.
You could also use drones to aid your planting from the sky – an aerial image of the field as you are planting in real time can guide you if you go off-course. Although, if you opted for a top of the range planter machine, you most likely already have GPS already at your disposal.
Control the Calendar
You need to pick the right day to go out and plant your crops. Planting on this rainy Tuesday and planting on that chilly Friday could be the difference between a successful harvest and getting stuck with your planter halfway down the field.
Observe how rain affects your soil consistency, particularly if you have heavy clay based soils. Also observe the temperature: cold days leading up to your designated planting day can really freeze up the soil even if the actual planting day is mild.
To really plant at maximum speed, you must ensure that your soil conditions are at optimum which is not easy when you’re running a no-till farm. But there are some things you can do. Firstly, try attaching cleaners to your planter to run before the seeds drop. Separating the earth will both ensure that seeds land where they should AND reduce vibrations from going over large rocks. Giving your gauge wheel a better place to run means you can speed up a fair bit too.
In conclusion, there are many different ways you can speed up your planter to increase planting efficiency on a no-till farm. They may not all be easy, cheap or quick but the right combination can really improve conditions for your planter on your farm.
Deciding which method of the above is the best option to start making improvements for your farm relies upon precision agriculture. It’s all about data data data. Collect as much data as you can before deciding to lightly till half your field or attach more downforce mechanisms, for example. You never want to be making un-informed decisions when it comes to something as important as planting. Get this wrong and you could seriously damage an entire harvest season.
Let us know how you’re getting on with your no-till ventures. Have you tried any of the above before? Do you have other methods that you’d like to share? Write about it in the comments! Don’t forget to check back next week for another fantastic agricultural article.