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Survey: No-till acreage now common in Illinois
By TIM ALEXANDER
Illinois Correspondent

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) announced that for the first time since records were kept in 1994, more Illinois farmers are using no-till crop production methods than any other tillage practice.

Results of the 2006 Illinois Soil Erosion and Crop Tillage Transect Survey, which gathered data from some 51,000 Illinois farm fields, confirm that 33 percent of the state’s crops were planted using no-till production methods.

Thirty-one percent of cropland examined was tilled using conventional methods, while mulch-tilled fields accounted for 16.4 percent of acreage and 19.3 percent utilized reduced-till practices.

“This survey helps to explain why Illinois consistently ranks among the largest producers of grain in the United States,” said IDOA Director Chuck Hartke. “We’ve been able to sustain a high level of production because our farmers take their role as environmental steward seriously and increasingly are adopting practices that protect the state’s fertile cropland.”

No-till practices were utilized with 17 percent (up 2 percent) of the corn crop and 36 percent (up 3 percent) of the small grains. Fifty-one percent of surveyed soybean fields were planted no-till, the first time the figure has topped 50 percent and more than a 5 percent gain since the last survey, conducted in 2004. More than 5 million acres of Illinois soybeans were planted no-till in 2006, according to the survey.

Bob Frazee, a natural resources educator for the University of Illinois Extension, called the survey’s findings “important milestones,” and offered several reasons for recent increases in no-till soybean planting practices.

“In 2006, Round-Up-resistant soybean varieties were planted on over 90 percent of Illinois soybean fields. The Round-Up herbicide program saves valuable time and tillage trips while at the same time providing excellent grass and broadleaf weed control throughout the season,” Frazee offered. “Second, high diesel fuel prices have encouraged many producers to eliminate the deep ripping or chiseling of last year’s corn stalks in the fall and the secondary tillage trips in spring of 2006.”

Other reasons for the no-till boom in the state’s soybean fields, Frazee said, include industry-wide improvements in no-till soybean planters and drills and a realization by the state’s farmers that no-till soybean fields yield as good or better than conventionally or mulch-tilled soybean fields.

Perhaps most importantly, he noted, is the fact producers are realizing that no-till practices show stewardship towards the land and waters of Illinois and beyond.

“Farmers are becoming good stewards of their soil and water resources by becoming increasingly concerned about soil erosion and water quality. No-till fields have been shown to reduce soil erosion by as much as 90 percent as compared to conventionally-tilled fields where no crop residue remained,” Frazee explained.

The survey also revealed an increase in the percentage of Illinois farmland with “tolerable” soil loss levels. Some 86 percent of the fields registered below “T,” the rate at which soil naturally replenishes itself. Around 10 percent of the fields tested were slightly above “T” and will require minor adjustments in production methods to become “tolerable” again.

Frazee said most Illinois producers could benefit by “getting on the bandwagon” by switching to a no-till system for corn, soybeans and small grains.

“The key is to start small and grow in to the system,” he advised. The Soil Erosion and Crop Tillage Transect Survey is conducted every two years and is completed with the assistance of the state’s 98 soil and water conservation districts. A chart summary of the results can be accessed at: www.agr.state.il.us/newsrels/r1026061.html

This farm news was published in the Nov. 15, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.

11/15/2006