Wednesday, May 13, 2009
The 'lone ranger' of ridge tillage
This week, I visited a couple farmers who are participating in Iowa Learning Farm, a conservation demonstration project sponsored by Iowa State University Extension and other agencies.
Craig Fleishman, one of the program's farmer-spokespersons, is a rare ridge tiller in central Iowa. The tillage system has long been known for its soil and water conservation benefits, so it was a pleasure to see Fleishman in the field with his 15-year-old, 12-row planter.
“I’m the lone ranger,” he said. "Ridge tillage has fallen out of favor."
You couldn't ask for a more enthusiastic representative for conservation, even if his tillage system appears to be disappearing from the landscape.
On Monday, Fleishman's planter was smoothly shaving off the top of corn ridges and planting soybeans into a perfect seedbed.
"With ridge till, I always wind up planting in a moist, mellow, firm seed bed," he said. "With the controlled traffic, you never plant in wheel tracks or anhydrous tracks. The seed bed is always the same. And you're always pushing the weed seed off the row."
And, all that crop residue left behind by the system is great for the soil and water.
Reduced chemical use is another well-known benefit of ridging, of course. This year, Fleishman sprayed corn herbicide on ten-inch bands at one third the broadcast rate. He’ll spot spray with glyphosate, then come with the cultivator, sidedressing nitrogen the first time, building ridges the second go-round.
Other conservation practices on the Fleishman farm include buffer strips, strip cropping, contouring, and grass waterways.
Clearly, Fleishman, a fifth-generation farmer, is trying to care of the land--a value you think would put him in the mainstream. So you wonder how he has become a "lone ranger" in the neighborhood when it comes to tillage.
"Sometimes we get caught up in the efficiency of our equipment, and we do more what's convenient for us, rather than what's good for the soil," he said. Modern machinery is moving faster, and is moving more soil, he says. Chisel plowing is nearly like moldboard plowing these days.
He fears that the trending interest in strip tillage will meet the same fate as ridging one day, relegated to minor status by big iron and ever-larger farms.
"With some of this big equipment, how can you take care of the waterways?" he asks.
Fleishman hopes that new programs like The Learning Farm eventually will help "create a new culture," and make conservation "the right thing to do," he said.
"Conservation should be the normal thing to do. We need to make it more mainstream."
Video: Fleishman's ridge-till planter & system
Posted by John Walter at 6:29 AM