This year's Conservation Tillage Conference & Expo drew top-notch farmers and experts from across the upper Midwest. The conference, sponsored in part by The Corn And Soybean Digest, looked at the best and brightest new conservation technology available to you. Here's a snapshot of some of this year's topics.

BIG ON NO-TILL

Soil structure improves when you “park your tillage tools.” That's the word from Paul Jasa, Extension ag engineer at the University of Nebraska. He's a strong proponent of no-till and what it can do for soil.

He says some farmers fear residue and are always trying to get rid of it. Not Jasa. “I love it because it saves moisture by reducing evaporation. Residue, like corn stalks and leaves, catch snow and moisture,” he says. “In dry years, you'll love no-till.”

Too often, for example, Jasa claims farmers are concerned about seedling emergence with excess residue. “I don't care if my plants don't emerge as fast as my neighbors. All I want is an even stand when they do emerge,” he says. And when it comes to planting, he's also a fan of seeding right between the old rows.

The whole idea of freezing and cracking of soil so moisture can travel vertically down to the roots is what makes Jasa such a supporter of parking tillage tools. However, he admits that it usually takes 3-5 years to build soil structure once you move to no-till.

“I don't believe in tillage rotation, either,” he says. “I want continuous no-till. Even when soil is dry, tillage destroys the structure.”

Jasa is such a supporter of no-till that he says when you till to get rid of wet spots, you're actually creating compaction and destroying soil structure. “You're just building a hardpan layer below,” he says.

If you do think you need to deep rip, Jasa says, “do it just once.”

FIGURE FIELD-BY FIELD PROFITS

It's time to look at each of your fields as a separate profit center, not just crop by crop, says Gregg Carlson, geospatial Extension specialist at South Dakota State University.

Carlson says each field should stand alone when figuring costs and profits. “If a field uses an input, it pays for it,” he says. “And when it comes to fuel and repair parts, they need to be allocated evenly across all fields.”

Currently, Carlson says labor costs are running about 25-30¢/acre in the Midwest. That's close to about $50 an hour to grow crops.

For a complete look at how to begin tracking field costs and conducting a profit center analysis, log on to his Web site at: http://plantsci.sdstate.edu/precisionfarm/paper/Carlsonfactsheets.aspx.

NEW CORN AND BEAN SEED NEWS

From a conservation tillage perspective, keep an eye out for seed companies to provide more emphasis on early emergence, says Paul Carter, Pioneer agronomist.

“Corn is now being planted 16% sooner than it was in 1993,” Carter says. He adds that the greatest stress emergence is in the first 24 hours after water comes in contact with corn seed.

On the soybean front, Larry Sax, NK Brand Seeds, says to watch for marker assistance technologies, especially with soybean cyst nematodes. “We may see a breakthrough in that area within the next three years,” he says.

Also, he believes genomics and plant breeding will play a key role ahead. In fact, he expects to see some aphid resistance in the next three years, too.

MORE COMPETITION FOR EQIP AND CSP

Your business plan, conservation plan and conservation program all have to fit together, according to Larry Beeler, assistant state conservationist for Iowa. Programs like Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Security Program (CSP) are voluntary programs for growers that choose conservation practices to fit their operations.

“I want to caution growers about the steps they jump into,” he says. Farmers can't get paid for both EQIP and CSP at the same time, so he says they need to choose what best fits their own farms. With the current level of funding, both programs are becoming very competitive.

“If you choose conservation practices, hopefully you'll be rewarded by CSP. If you don't, you're still doing the right thing for your resources on your farm,” Beeler says. “Don't choose a program for the money and then be disappointed.”

FUNDING, RULES BIG FACTORS IN CSP

Although CSP is authorized through 2011, it's still questionable whether funding will be available, says Gary Wyatt, Minnesota Extension educator. This year the number of selected watersheds was reduced from 110 to 60, and the rules for the program continue to change. In 2006 the qualifications changed to a national point system, making the program even more competitive.

Steve Sodeman, a certified crop consultant from Minnesota, says the maze of paperwork and documentation required to apply is a challenge for growers who want to enroll in CSP. Ill-prepared farmers and a poor attitude toward the program by local NRCS employees are some of the reasons that there is a lot frustration with CSP, he says.

“You have to prepare. Know how to answer the questions properly and have a follow-up to make sure there were no errors,” says Sodeman. “The devil is in the details.”

Sodeman believes another challenge to the program is the question of how conservation is measured. A national point system and a new water quality assessment worksheet from NRCS will help define clearer guidelines.

Wyatt adds that growers need to keep good records, do soil tests and review their tillage practices, pesticide program and cropping systems to make the application process easier.

BE MORE EFFICIENT USING A TSP

Nebraska farmer Greg Kumm uses a technical service provider (TSP) on his farm.

TSPs are certified by NRCS to provide technical services to growers. They can be crop consultants, retail ag chem dealers, certified crop advisers or other individuals and entities. Jim Hutchinson, a crop consultant agronomist and TSP in Nebraska, helps growers in his area with practices such as nutrient management, conservation cropping systems, irrigation water management and pest management.

To locate a TSP or get more information about the program, visit http://techreg.usda.gov.

More Accurate Tillage Tools

So just how good are you at identifying poor producing areas of your fields? If you need help, turn to digital GIS technology, says Scott Shearer, ag engineer at the University of Kentucky. “With GIS you might be able to put unproductive areas of your farm into Conservation Reserve Program acres.”

Shearer heads up auto-guidance research in Kentucky and recently has looked at how well implements follow tractors equipped with auto-guidance systems. Why? “Because you're only auto-guiding the tractor, not the implement,” he says.

His research shows that tillage tools follow better than planters. But, he says, “planters can be off as much as 4 in. and still not cause a yield loss.”