‘Trashy Farming.’

first_imgMax Carter’s Coffee County farm doesn’t impress you with its neatness. “I like myfarming on the trashy side,” Carter chuckled as he checked his cotton and peanutfields.The beauty of Carter’s farm, though, is beginning to catch the eye of more than onebeholder. The scruffy look of crops planted into the stubble of previous crops hides asimple success a growing number of farmers are embracing.”It’s hard to say for sure how many farmers are using conservation tillage,”said Glen Harris, an Extension Service crop and soil scientist with the University ofGeorgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.”We’ve been saying 15 percent of row crops,” Harris said. “Last year,though, I really think it might have been as high as 20 percent or even 25 percent.” Other than Carter, only the insects work his fields. “After I got into no-till,all my help wanted to work at Wal-mart or uptown, so I started doing it all myself,”he said. “And I take a swing at a golf ball once in a while.”Carter won’t say he’s making big money. “We’re saving money, naturally, from lessplowing and less chemicals,” he said. “If we’re going out of business, we’re atleast going out slower.”Improved Soil QualityHe and Harris agree that conservation tillage’s single greatest benefit is improvedsoil quality.”Everything goes back to building the organic matter in the soil,” Harrissaid. “That’s a real challenge, especially in our sandy south Georgia soils. It’s nota one-year thing. But a farmer should see a real difference in three to five years.”Carter figures the new millennium will see more of this low-input farming.”Conservation-tillage people will be the ones to bring the flag out when it’s allover,” he said.”They can stay longer than a person who’s wearing out tractors and letting histopsoil leave while he’s sleeping,” he said. “If you don’t have a healthytopsoil, you’ll lose somewhere — now or the next generation.” Photo: Glen Harris Photo: Glen Harris This story is another in a weekly series called “Planting the Seed: Science for the New Millennium.” These stories feature ideas and advances in agricultural and environmental sciences with implications for the future.center_img In conservation tillage, farmers use special equipment to loosen the soil in narrow grooves or strips soil and plant rows of summer crops into the stubble of previous winter grain crops like this field of rye. It may not be the prettiest farming, but these cotton rows emerging from the stubble of a winter rye crop are economically attractive to a growing number of farmers. Planting in StripsTraditionally, farmers make as many as five passes over their land in the process oftilling their soil and planting their crops.Carter and others who use conservation tillage don’t do all that plowing. They usestrip tillage equipment to plant rows of summer crops into the stubble of small-grainwinter crops.”It saves a lot of time and money,” Harris said. “It has a lot of otherbenefits, too. It greatly improves the soil’s water-holding and nutrient-holding capacity.For years, we promoted it as a means to control soil erosion. But now, the economics aremaking it catch on.”Carter said he started his “ugly farming” on a small scale. “I startedplaying with this with soybeans behind wheat 24 years ago,” he said. “I’ve beenfarming since 1954. I call myself doing it wrong for 20 years. We plowed these fields atremendous amount. We built ponds and pumped water.Less Plowing, Watering”And finally, after 20 years,” he said, “we realized we weren’t gettinga lot accomplished. Over the past 24 years, we’ve grown into a no-till situation.”Now, Carter has crops growing on his 200 acres virtually year-round. He usually makesnearly two bales of cotton per acre and has equally impressive peanut yields. But hespends far less money and effort to produce his crops.”We don’t irrigate anymore since we quit plowing,” he said. “We sold offthe irrigation equipment. We maintain enough straw on the land to give us a kind of mulchto preserve the water that falls.”Less Labor, TooNear the end of the season, Carter still hadn’t put any insecticide on his cotton orpeanuts. “We attribute that to beneficial insects,” he said. “They come inand work the fields.”last_img

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