More than 200 growers gathered in Sioux Falls, SD, February 8-9 at the Conservation Tillage Conference And Expo. The event, hosted by The Corn And Soybean Digest, was held in cooperation with Farm Industry News, Iowa State University, the University of Minnesota, the University of Nebraska and South Dakota State University.

Here's a sampling of the soil-saving sessions covered there.

Watch upcoming issues of The Corn And Soybean Digest for information on next year's conference.

Control Weeds Or Lose Yield

Don't let your weed control program get out of hand or you stand to lose significant yields. That's the message from Bob Hartzler, weed specialist at Iowa State University.

“Studies show that if weeds reach even 2 in. tall, you'll lose 5% of your yield,” he says.

Hartzler says research shows it's important to plant into a weed-free zone. “If you're in a moderate- to high-weedy area, use a pre-emergence program,” he says. “A total post program can cost a lot in the long run, so it's high risk to rely totally on a post program.”

Scouting Is Key On Conservation Acres

Scouting is the basis for a good integrated pest management program with conservation tillage, says Bruce Potter, integrated pest management specialist at the University of Minnesota's Lamberton research station.

“Since tillage influences temperature and moisture, it also effects placement of insects,” he says.

One of the most frequent questions he's asked is whether tillage has an influence on soybean aphids. His response: “There's no connection to tillage and aphids.”

His advice for insect control:

  • Keep scouting.
  • Pay attention to what you see.
  • Don't waste your ammo if you don't have a problem.

Recommendations For Problem Fungi

Gray leaf spot on corn is a big problem fungi now, especially with more no-till, says Marty Draper, plant pathologist at South Dakota State University. He says the best defense is crop rotations to give residue time to break down.

“We find most of our disease problems with moldboard plowing, and some with chisel plowing,” he says.

On Asian soybean rust, Draper worries that farmers in the northern Corn Belt could be “lulled into complacency.”

He says: “We do have the right conditions to support rust. And with field-to-field spread, storm systems and jet streams, we could see the spores move 100-300 miles in a day.”

Conservation Is Carbon Management

Carbon contributes to half of the greenhouse affect, says Don Reicosky, a soil scientist at USDA-ARS North Central Soil Conservation research lab in Morris, MN. He advocates the benefits of no-till or minimum-till systems, which reduce the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere.

“As organic matter is oxidized (through activity like tillage) it's like pouring gasoline on a fire. Residue management (including minimizing tillage) is a key to carbon management,” he says.

Reicosky also urges growers to be aware of trends in carbon trading. While the Chicago Climate Exchange is currently trading at about $2/ton, carbon is trading for about 8 Euro/ton (about $12) in Europe.

CSP: Coming To A Watershed Near You

The Conservation Security Program (CSP) is still in its infancy, but it's growing rapidly. In 2005, 202 watersheds were selected — nearly one-eighth of U.S. farms and ranches.

Dan Paulsen, area resource conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Sioux City, IA, estimates that a signup for this year's program will take place this spring.

While he had hoped the signup would take place before planting, he's not sure that it's feasible because some details for this year's program need to be hammered out, including the new renewable energy component.

For more information about CSP visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/csp.

Less Seat Time

No-till for Dennis Whisney means fewer hours on his tractors, which translates to lower fuel costs.

He estimates he uses only 2.2 gal. of fuel/acre/year on his entire 1,600-acre corn and soybean farm.

Whisney farms with his brother in Jackson County, MN, near Alpha. He says they went “cold turkey” when they switched to no-till in 1992. The switch has paid off in cost savings from using less equipment, less labor and less fuel. Yet corn yields are competitive, producing 200+ bu./acre in 2004, he says.

Strip-Till Benefits

Strip-till represents the best of two field practices for Lynn Flaming, an Elsie, NE, grower. Strip-till offers vertical tillage and precise fertilizer placement while preserving the benefits of no-till.

Since Flaming started strip-tilling, he has noticed a healthy crop of earthworms, which create pores in the soil that allow good water absorption. He says the combination of residue on the surface and earthworms working the soil help stimulate root development, which in turn produce excellent yields.