There's a downside to no-till farming that's not received much publicity yet, although it's a growing problem, literally: varmints.

That's because no-till provides a nearly perfect environment for voles, moles and ground squirrels. Residue provides cover, lost grain supplies food and tillage isn't constantly wrecking their burrows.

And, thanks to hunters, coyotes and foxes that gladly kept the varmint population down aren't around much anymore.

Soon after corn comes up, it's not uncommon to see a 20'-diameter circle of devastation centered around each burrow entrance.

"So we declared war on them," states Jim Kinsella, Lexington, IL. "We've used gopher zappers, shotguns, gas, water down the burrows ..."

The war was being lost, he says, until one day he noticed a hawk brazenly swoop down from high atop a tree to make a meal of a ground squirrel.

That got Kinsella thinking about enlisting winged natural predators in the battle to save his corn crop. It would be a 24-hour search-and-destroy mission, too, because hawks hunt days and owls own the night.

Unfortunately, most of Kinsella's fields are located away from trees. Several fields, however, had their corners marked with 6' high white PVC pipe.

Each 1"-diameter pipe section fits into a 1 1/2' section of 1 1/2"-diameter steel pipe that's had one end smashed in a vise so it's sharp enough to readily pound into the ground until flush with the surface.

Kinsella added a PVC T to each PVC pipe as a perch. Some predators used the perches, but the PVC was slippery, especially in swaying winds.

Then, capitalizing on the instinct of predator birds to perch as high as possible, he modified his basic idea. Kinsella switched to 12' sections of PVC pipe, then wrapped the T portion with scrap carpeting secured by glue and duct tape. The cost: $5.

However, at some corners where he had only wood posts, he nailed on 10' 2 x 2 extensions with 2' Ts for perches.

"I prefer the PVC arrangement, though," he adds, "because the pipe can be pulled out when mowing, and the metal portion also is easily located with a metal detector.

"I don't know how effective the owls are, because they work only at night," Kinsella reports. "However, I saw more hawks dining than before I put up the perches.

"I can't say the perches completely solved the problem last year," he continues. "It was a bad year for rodents and I got only a half-dozen perches up kind of late in the season. But I certainly intend to put up more perches this spring."