A wet fall, winter and early spring that prevented anything but a bare minimum of land preparation on Moss’ Hunt County, Texas, farm made that option not only a good idea but also the only one that made sense.
“I had wanted to try minimum-till milo for several years,” Moss says. “I’ve been using reduced tillage on forage crops and have been pleased with the result. I tried a little on soybeans but the drill I was using did not handle the bigger seed very well.”
Last fall, he had trouble managing grain sorghum residue. Persistent rain prevented him from getting in the fields to plow the stubble under. So he fluffed it up as best he could and left it on the ground.
“I reduced tractor speed to about 3.5 miles per hour, so I did not run the plow too deep, just to get across the wet soil. I fluffed it up a little and this spring, the ground is really mellow.”
He says he had two options this spring: “I could plow the ground and lose moisture or I could try minimum tillage, plant through the crust and save it. I also save on diesel and get started earlier than if I broke the land. I still had to plow some fields to manage wheat straw for soybeans.”
With milo, he waited until the soil crusted following frequent spring rains and until “ I could get across the fields. I loaded the tank in front of the tractor to add weight to improve traction.”
He banded fertilizer as he planted and banded a pre-emergence herbicide with a float truck just after planting. “Bicep worked well on seedling Johnsongrass,” he says.
He also adds glyphosate with fertilizer to take out Johnsongrass, where needed.
He had Touchdown herbicide flown on to kill winter weeds.
“Since I could not plow during the winter, we controlled weeds with spot applications of herbicides. We only sprayed once and then only the bad spots. The fields are pretty clean.”
He stayed off the ground as much as possible. “I flew on ammonium nitrate for my wheat crop. Dry material is a benefit because we don’t lose as much as we do with liquid.
“I want to put fertilizer in the ground on milo so I don’t burn it.”
He likes to wait to make sure the plants get all the benefit from the fertilizer. “If I apply it too early, I risk getting a heavy rain and losing it.”
Moss does not like to cultivate. “I lose too much moisture,” he says. “I built a machine to spray herbicides when the milo is about 12 inches tall.”
Moss doesn’t save a lot of trips with minimum tillage. “I didn’t make that many anyway,” he says. “I rarely cultivate more than once a season. Mainly, I’m trying to save moisture. I started farming four years ago and the first year I plowed a lot of land to get it in shape. I lost a lot of moisture and most of the crop. I decided then that I would do everything I could to preserve moisture in the soil.”
So far his minimum till crops look better than conventional acreage. He says the reduced tillage allows him to manage crops better.
“I have my act together,” he says. “I can do things more timely and be in the field when I need to be. I also bought a spray rig so I could apply materials on time. I can’t always count on custom operators to be there when I need them.”
He adjusted grain sorghum seeding rate when he switched to minimum till. “I was a little concerned about planting into residue and with cool temperatures at planting time. I planted 102,000 seed per acre in 30-inch rows. That’s about six seed per foot of row. I usually plant 95,000 to 96,000 seed per acre.”
He says the stand is excellent. “I couldn’t ask for a better, more uniform stand of grain sorghum.”
He plowed some soybean land this year but planted as much as possible through the crust. “Some of the reduced till soybeans are a week to ten days later than the conventional, but they are growing faster. They look very good.”
He prefers to plant soybeans behind a milo crop and milo behind wheat. “Milo stubble is not as heavy on the ground as wheat straw,” he says.
He’s using a John Deere vacuum planter. “That’s as good as it gets,” he says. “It’s accurate and can plant just about anything. I’ve added extra down pressure springs to get through the crop residue. As long as the soil is fairly soft, it does very well.”
Moss will make some changes to the operation next year.
“I’ve thought about applying fertilizer to the side of the row and will need another opener to get liquid fertilizer in.”
He also likes to run a trash cutter and a coulter on sandy soils. “That does not work as well on blackland soils.”
He’s also considering a spiked closing wheel to help cover seed. “And I want to get as much wheat stubble out of the field as possible. I may bale it and try to find a market.”
Moss has found other tricks that give him an edge. “I always plant North and South. That helps with weed problems because the crop shades out the sun better and prevents weeds from getting a good start.”
Jim Swart, Texas A&M-Commerce IPM Specialist, says Moss is among a number of northeast Texas row crop farmers who turned what could have been a near impossible planting situation into a new opportunity this year when winter and spring rains prevented them from preparing land.
“We have a lot of not-by-design reduced tillage systems this year,” he says. “It will be interesting to see how the crops do.”
For Moss, the weather provided him an opportunity to try a practice he had been interested in anyway. So far, he’s pleased with the outcome.