Our cropping goal, at Fairmont Farm, is to be 100% no-till with cover crops, and we have nearly met this goal for a number of years now. However this year we were about 70% no-till with a cover, 15% no-till without a cover and 15% minimal tillage. Some of the reasons we have done more tillage this year were: repairing damage to fields from manure spreading in wet conditions, and field stacked manure from barns that are not compatible with our liquid system during the winter months. The reason for having some fields no-till without a cover is due to the late harvest last year, we ran out of time to get a cover crop planted on some of our later harvested fields. So, what is no-till and what are cover crops?
Corn Planting – This picture is no-till planting with a cover crop
Corn Planting – This picture captures planting new corn directly into an existing grass field
No-till is a type of conservation practice that we use in which we no longer till our fields up before we plant corn. Instead, the soil is left undisturbed and seeds are directly sewn into the existing vegetation. We pair our no-till planting with the use of cover crops. Cover crops are planted after the corn is harvested in the fall and are terminated after spring corn planting. By planting corn this way, we are simulating a natural ecosystem for the plants. The benefits include an overall increase in soil health, reduced soil erosion, reduced soil compaction, increase in yield, increase in nitrogen recycling, and increased ability to filter and retain water among many other benefits. From a management perspective, there are also significantly fewer inputs involved in this system including reduced time, money and fuel.
We currently crop about 3,600 acres, 1,500 of which are corn. Being able to get all of our corn planted in a timely manner, for our short growing season, with our small and rocky fields was one driving factor when we originally made the transition to a no-till cover cropping system. However since then, we have greatly appreciated all of the other benefits that are gained with this new system.