The American Society of Agronomy has honored Oklahoma State University's No-Till Team of scientists and educators for their educational, how-to publication, “No-Till Cropping Systems in Oklahoma.”

It is 80 pages of hard science boiled down to reader-friendly terminology and visuals that promote understanding and help to decrease any feelings of anxiety producers might have about trying no-till cropping systems, said Dave Porter, head of OSU's department of plant and soil sciences.

“Receiving the ASA ‘Certificate of Excellence’ shows the tremendous positive impact of the team's great work at the national and international level,” Porter said. “Perhaps even more importantly, the award recognizes the way in which OSU's Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources is going about assisting our state producers in taking advantage of no-till systems.”

The division is comprised of the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources and two statewide agencies: the Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station system and Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, both of which work side-by-side with state residents to solve concerns and issues that affect them and their communities.

In terms of no-till, its biggest attribute is long-term productivity of a farmer's soil. When a soil is tilled, it loses a key ingredient, carbon. Soil carbon makes up more than half of the soil organic matter, which is a critical factor in water-holding capacity and overall soil productivity.

“A well-established no-till system improves soil structure and water infiltration, thus helping to reduce soil erosion and runoff; therefore, the impact of agriculture on environmental quality can be minimized by switching from conventional to conservation tillage systems,” said No-Till Team member Hailin Zhang, director of the OSU Soil, Water and Forage Analytical Laboratory and holder of the Santelmann-Warth Distinguished Professorship.

In addition, many farmers have the opportunity to diversify and intensify their cropping systems by reducing tillage.

“This is especially the case in western Oklahoma where precipitation is the No. 1 limiting factor in crop production,” said Chad Godsey, No-Till Team member and OSU Cooperative Extension cropping systems specialist.

Precipitation storage efficiency is 20 percent in conventional till systems with little or no surface residue. Precipitation storage efficiency estimates have been 40 percent in no-till.

“You can conserve two times the moisture in a no-till system compared with a conventional till system, while also promoting other benefits: reduced wind and water erosion, time savings, fuel savings, decreased soil compaction and reduced labor costs,” he said.

Godsey is quick to point out that success in no-till is usually directly linked to a well-conceived and implemented crop rotation. Generally speaking, the more diversity in a producer's cropping system, the better. Important crops for no-till consideration in Oklahoma include wheat, soybeans, sorghum, corn and cotton.

“Cotton is a natural for no-till or reduced tillage systems because of the sensitivity of young cotton to wind and blowing soil,” said J.C. Banks, No-Till Team member and OSU Cooperative Extension cotton specialist.

Recent development in varieties with transgenic traits, equipment designed to plant in crop residue and improved management techniques have allowed no-till cotton production to become well established in Oklahoma.

“No-till cotton is the preferred technique for cotton production in dryland and pivot-irrigated systems,” said Banks, who also serves as director of the division's Southwest Research and Extension Center in Altus.

Bob Hunger, No-Till Team member and OSU Cooperative Extension wheat pathologist, said dangers from disease with no-till are essentially “a wash” where well-conceived crop rotation is used.

“Sometimes there are increases in disease and sometimes there are decreases,” he said. “One of the key elements that we point out in the publication is the need to understand the effects of no-till on specific diseases in order to facilitate variety selection, planting date and possible fungicide use to help prevent losses from disease.”

Easy-to-follow chapter topics of the OSU publication include soil quality and no-till, effects of no-till on water quality, no-till equipment, sprayers for no-till crop production, the economics of no-till versus conventional tillage, soil fertility and pH management for no-till, weed management, disease management, insect management and cover crops.

Chapters that deal specifically with no-till systems for wheat, soybeans, cotton, sorghum and corn also are included.

In addition to Zhang, Godsey, Banks and Hunger, publication authors include the division's Mike Smolen, OSU Cooperative Extension water quality specialist; Randy Taylor, OSU Cooperative Extension agricultural engineer; Francis Epplin, OSU professor of agricultural economics; John Damicone, OSU Cooperative Extension plant pathologist; Tom Royer, OSU Integrated Pest Management program coordinator; Jeff Edwards, OSU Cooperative Extension small grains specialist; Rick Kochenower, OSU Cooperative Extension area agronomy specialist and researcher; and Case Medlin, former OSU Cooperative Extension weed specialist.

Additional publication authors include Gregory Scott and Jimmy Ford of the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, Stillwater office, and Kansas State University's Mark Schrock, professor emeritus of biological and agricultural engineering, and Robert Wolf, Cooperative Extension application technology specialist.

“It's imperative that producers and landowners employ the best management practices for the economic viability of their operations and the sustainability of the land,” Porter said. “The ASA honor shows that ‘No-Till Cropping Systems in Oklahoma’ can be a valuable resource in helping producers to meet both their economic and environmental needs.”

Anyone seeking additional information on the value of no-till cropping systems should contact the OSU department of plant and soil sciences at 405-744-6130.