A no-till production system makes economic and environmental sense for Oklahoma summer crop production.
“I think the greatest no-till benefit is for summer crops,” said Rick Kochenower, Oklahoma State University Research and Extension specialist, during a recent Tipton Valley Research Center field tour.
Shane Osborne, OSU associate Extension specialist, agrees and said cotton is a good fit for no-till production.
Osborne and Kochenower were part of a field day and dedication ceremony for the recently completed research facility that replaces one destroyed by a 2011 tornado.
“I think no-till has a great fit with grain sorghum,” Kochenower said. “We’ve seen a 28 bushel per acre yield increase with no-till versus conventional tillage in Oklahoma Panhandle trials.”
“No-till has been very successful in cotton,” Osborne added during a cotton research project stop.
He said a marriage of technology and education makes no-till a successful practice in cotton. “The concept of no-till has been around for more than 50 years,” he added. “Folks were aware of the advantages of no-till that far back. They knew of no-till’s benefits—increased organic matter and improved moisture-holding capacity. But they did not have the technology that we have today.”
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Crucial technology emerged in the mid-1990s. “We were still antagonized by the boll weevil,” Osborne said. “But we used technology with the boll weevil eradication program to get rid of that pest. That success allowed us to invest in technology being developed—herbicide resistant varieties. That technology has been a good tool for cotton and changed the cotton business tremendously. Herbicide resistant cotton was a game changer and we became educated on how to use that technology.”
Adoption of glyphosate resistant varieties may have been a bit too successful, however, especially when used as the sole means of weed control. “Around 2005, resistant pigweed began to show up in Georgia,” Osborne explained. “Some observers thought that was the beginning of the end for herbicide resistant technology, especially in the Southeast. And resistance also showed up across the Mid-south and then in the South Plains and in this area (Southwest Oklahoma). That also changed the way we do business.”
Back to basics
Cotton farmers went back to some old practices, pre-emergent herbicides, to take care of resistant weeds. “We used some old technology and began re-educating ourselves on how to use older herbicides along with new technology. That’s where we are now.”
Osborne said farmers still “have what we need. And we will have other options in the near future.” He said cotton varieties resistant to Dicamba and 2,4-D will be available as soon as 2015. “That offers a huge opportunity. We expect a lot of interest.”
But new technology also requires more education, he said. “We have new solutions to resistance issues but we also will have a new marriage between education and new technology. We learned from Roundup Ready cotton about the potential for drift, so we know what’s in store.”
He said the new technology will pose challenges. “But we can be safe and effective with proper management.”
He said the new Dicamba and 2, 4-D resistant varieties will have requirements “we have not seen before. New restrictions will include buffer zones to protect non-resistant cotton and other vulnerable crops from potential drift. Nozzle types also will change, Osborne said.
“Droplet size is a big deal. Controlling droplet size will mitigate a large part of the drift issue. Recommendations are in place and should prevent some of the issues we had early with Roundup Ready technology. Again, the combination of technology and education will make us successful.”
Good option for Oklahoma
That technology will continue to make no-till production a good option for Oklahoma cotton, he said. “No-till has widespread adoption in the state. We have the equipment to plant cotton in any environment.”
Osborne said adoption of no-till “is still on the rise. I see a lot more no-till acres now than I do clean-till.”
His no-till cotton research plot follows wheat from the previous year. He said soil temperature seems to remain a bit cooler with the vegetative cover. The benefits from soil moisture retention and improved soil organic matter content are good selling points.
Kochenower said adoption of no-till for grain sorghum may “have plateaued. But I have been fortunate that a farmer I’ve worked with on research plots for 16 years was already in no-till. I see some still experimenting with it.”