Tillage Issues With Changing Crops

Larry Oldham, Extension Soils Specialist
By Larry Oldham, Extension Soils Specialist April 1, 2011 08:51 Updated

Tillage decisions for crop changes

There are about two-thirds the acres planted in annual crop production in Mississippi than in the circa 1980 era.

Annual Row Crop Harvested Acres

The eighteen Delta or partial Delta counties account for 80% of Mississippi planted acres, up from 70 to 75% in the pre-Conservation Reserve Program era. Therefore, most of the decline in planting has occurred in the non-Delta portions of the state. Significant amounts of this acreage is now pine plantations, and not likely to be shifted to annual crop production in the short-term. Other acreage has been shifted to pasture and hay in the upland region.

The crop lines in the graph (derived from National Agricultural Statistics Service data) show that commodity markets have ‘bought’ acres from cotton for corn and soybeans in recent years. The Japanese earthquake recently dampened commodity prices; however it is a long crop year. Even with planters beginning to operate, there are still reports of late shifts in planting intentions, including bringing some new ground out of pastures and hay, or other uses particularly in the upland area which was shifted out over the years.

There are several important soil management considerations for these sites, and actually all farms. Sloped sites in long term vegetation should not be tilled in preparation for crop production. Macropores that facilitate rainfall infiltration develop under sod and are destroyed by tillage. The surface mulch cover protects soil from raindrop impact and greatly reduces erosion potential.

Much of the sloping land with perennial vegetative cover in Mississippi upland areas can be cropped without violating “sodbusting” rules that would interfere with payments from federal programs. However, there are great variations in erosion potential, and each site should be evaluated by Natural Resource Conservation Service personnel before cropping. Participants in commodity programs should make sure that their records with the Farm Service Agency are up to date relating to Highly Erodible Land (HEL) compliance.

The soils must be tested for nutrient needs for the new crop, and most importantly to determine if a lime program is needed as soils tend to acidify over time in the warm and humid Mississippi climate.

Crops can be planted into perennial vegetation such as sod or pasture, or following other crops. Research at several Mississippi locations has shown that corn, soybeans, wheat, and cotton can be grown successfully in no-tillage systems. Yields under good management in no-tillage are equal to or better than on tilled soil. Herbicide programs necessary for the no-tillage system can be developed in conjunction with variety selection.

Increased fuel costs are another consideration as we enter the 2011 crop year. No-tillage systems require fewer trips over the field and less crop production labor. Moreover, the equipment trips that are made require less power and fuel.

Livestock producers can utilize the planting of no-tillage crops for pasture improvement. Smutgrass and other undesirable species can be controlled while producing the grain or oilseed crop, rather than keeping the land fallow as with other treatment methods. As a result of no-tillage cropping, bahiagrass is reduced and bermuda grass is a survivor. If inorganic fertilizers were provided to the annual crops, any residual that was not utilized by it are available to support improved pasture growth after harvest. Poultry litter applied will benefit both the annual crop and the perennial pasture in fields where it is spread as the nutrients in to continue to become plant available.

Again, remember that growers participating in commodity programs must communicate with their local Natural Resource Conservation Service and Farm Service Agency if they are considering this shift.

This incorporates information from Dr. Grover Triplett, Professor – MSU Department of Plant and Soil Science; Dr. Ernie Flint, Area Specialized Agent – Agronomy, MSU Extension Service; and Mr. Robert Wimblish, Agronomist, Area 1, Mississippi Natural Resources Conservation Service





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Larry Oldham, Extension Soils Specialist
By Larry Oldham, Extension Soils Specialist April 1, 2011 08:51 Updated
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