Four steps to bring no-till to your fields

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WEST MIDDLESEX, Pa. – More than half of Ohio and Pennsylvania farmers bring in less than $10,000 a year from their farms. With low income and low acreage – the average Pennsylvania farm is 135 acres – it can be hard for farmers to keep up.
But two experts from those states say small-time farming is no excuse to ignore things like technology, conservation and advancing techniques. And it’s certainly no excuse to look past farming methods like no-till.
Uncertainty and expensive equipment keep some farmers from making the switch, but Sjoerd Duiker, Penn State soil management specialist, said there are ways for small farmers to begin a no-till system.
“It doesn’t depend if you’re a big farmer or a small farmer,” he said.
During a presentation at the 10th annual Tri-State Conservation Tillage Conference Jan. 23 in West Middlesex, Pa., Duiker gave participants four steps to start down a no-till path.
1. Start small. You don’t need to buy the most expensive equipment out there. In fact, you don’t have to buy equipment at all. Beginning no-tillers can rent or borrow planters and drills.
“You can work with people perhaps in your environment, your neighborhood,” Duiker said.
Les Ober, ag and natural resources program assistant with Geauga County OSU extension, said equipment can quickly erode a budget, but a little planning can go a long way.
2. Start second hand. If you can afford it, buy a second-hand planter and have it refurbished. Duiker said one Pennsylvania farmer who is switching to no-till bought a second-hand planter for $1,850 and had it rebuilt for $1,500.
For less than $3,500, the farmer took a major step toward his no-till goals.
“I have to tell you, they’re (second-hand planters) are all over,” Duiker said, pointing to auctions as one of the best ways to find them.
Also, you don’t have to get the attachments all at once. Add them over time, as you can afford it.
3. Start multi-tasking. Small, second-hand drills are expensive and hard to find. If you can afford to buy one, make it earn its keep on the farm.
“The drill you can use for a lot of different things,” Duiker said.
He added that a drill can be used from March to November and drill owners can rent their equipment to others.
If you can’t afford your own drill, rent one. Or, if you live near other farmers who have the same goals as you, work with them to buy a drill. Many soil and water conservation districts also rent drills to farmers.
“If you think about that way, this whole no-till thing doesn’t seem to intimidating anymore,” Duiker said.
4. Use a crop adviser. According to Duiker, certified crop advisers can provide up-to-date information and advice to farmers.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at jskrinjar@farmanddairy.com.)

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