OVERCOMING THE CHALLENGES OF DIRECT SEEDING
Producers switching to direct seeding methods from conventional tilling often face a number of challenges. Some of these obstacles serve as a deterrent for those that want to make the switch to no-till farming. As more growers learn how to overcome these challenges, we will all benefit from higher yields, healthier crops and less damage to the environment.
Common wisdom is that conventional farming controls weeds by tilling them under each year, while no-till practices lead to weed-infested crops. The truth is that weeds are a problem no matter the farming method. With conventional tilling, growers are actually doing twice the work to accomplish the same goal. Since many weed seeds need soil disturbance to germinate, tilling promotes weed growth. Later in the season, traditional growers apply herbicides to cut back the sprouted weed seed. No-till farmers use only the herbicide, not the tilling. In fact, no-till growers often find that the need for herbicides reduces as their cropland becomes more mature.
Avoiding Soil Compaction
Soil compaction is another worry for direct seeding farmers. Choosing crops with different root depths each year will keep the soil soft. Growers can prevent compaction caused by machinery in several ways. Equipment with more – and larger – tires reduces deeply packed ruts. Planting in a different direction each year will help prevent compacted tracks. Other growers embrace the tracks, practicing what is called Controlled Traffic Farming. With this method, growers run their tractors and equipment down the same track year after year, limiting soil compaction to a small percentage of the cropland.
Low Soil Temperatures
Crop residue causes direct seeded fields to stay at a lower temperature, which can lead to slow germination. Some growers use equipment that makes a furrowed seedbed, helping the seeded soil warm quickly. Since this method requires a small amount of tilling, many no-till farmers go with knife openers that use on-row packing instead. Knife openers provide the least amount of soil disturbance, while an on-row packing system brings the seed into contact with the moist soil, speeding germination.
Disease management can be difficult for both direct seed and conventional growers. First, growers should choose a good seed that is disease-free, and has plenty of vigor along with high germination rates. A good crop rotation plan will also go a long way towards disease prevention – diseases can’t spread if they don’t have a host plant to attack each year. Cropland is most vulnerable to disease in the seed and seedling stage. By choosing a direct seeding tool that helps seed germinate quickly, no-till farmers can shorten the amount of time diseases have to get started.