Tag Archives: no-till

A Perfect Match by Jim Gerrish

Once again, Jim Gerrish, owner American GrazingLands,  pens a thorough and relevant article.  This one published in The Stockman GrassFarmer June , 2020 issue.  Click here if you’d like to request a free copy of The Stockman GrassFarmer.

A Perfect Match

May, Idaho

Some things just seem to fit together really well.  Bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwiches come to mind, among other things.

How about no-till, cover-crops, irrigation, and MiG?  That is another combination that is hard to beat.

Industrial farming with conventional tillage has led to widespread land degradation through soil erosion, loss of soil carbon, and destruction of soil life.  No-till minimizes soil disturbance and the concurrent loss of organic matter soil life.  The downside of no-till farming over the 50 or so years since its inception has been heavy reliance on potent herbicides like paraquat and glyphosate.  To eliminate the need for those herbicides and their toxic side effects, innovative farmers have figured out approaches.  The roller-crimper as a mechanical tool can terminate existing vegetation and turn it into moisture-conserving mulch.  High stock density grazing can also terminate or suppress existing vegetation and turn it into dollars.

The exponential growth in cover-crop use over the last decade has also accelerated the adoption of no-till farming across the USA and around the world.  While many farmers started using cover-crops based solely on soil health benefits, others came to realize livestock were the missing link in their efforts to heal the land.  We quite talking about sustainable ag a few years ago and started talking about regenerative ag.  Why settle for sustaining the agricultural wreck we have created over the last century?  Why don’t we try fixing it instead?

Ray Archuleta uses a great example to illustrate the difference between the sustainable and regenerative concepts.  ray asks,  “If your marriage is a wreck, why would you want to sustain that?  If your farm is a wreck, why would you want to sustain that?”

Regeneration is meant to create something healthy and strong that will last your lifetime and beyond.  I think it is a valuable lesson in world selection and world viewpoint.

In a similar vein, many years ago I said the most tragic divorce that has happened down on the farm was the divorce of livestock from the land.  Taking grazing animals off the landscape and locking them up in concentration camps removed a critical component of ecosystem health.  We will only regenerate a healthy landscapes with effectively managed livestock as part of the process.

We can argue about the sustainability of irrigation.  Around the world, including the USA, aquifers are being pumped to the point of depletion.  Land is being degraded due to salinization from irrigating with high salt content water.  Pumping costs are increasing in many irrigated farming areas as water is pumped from deeper and deeper wells.  No, irrigation in that sense is neither sustainable nor regenerative.

Living in the Intermountain Region of the USA for 16 years now and enjoying a different type of irrigation basis.  I think there is a time and place for irrigation in a regenerative ranching or farming context.  With direct snow-melt as our water source we avoid aquifer depletion and most of the salinity risks associated with irrigation in semi-arid landscapes.

For many years, a lot of this region was flood irrigated.  There are a number of benefits to flood irrigation.  Flood irrigation can rely entirely on gravity flow of water so there is no pumping cost.  It can hydrate parts of the landscape outside of the farmed fields.  The infrastructure investment is fairly low.  However, Water use efficiency cannot be counted as one of the favorable aspects of flood irrigation.

Per ton of forage grown, flood irrigation typically uses about 50-80% more water than sprinkler irrigation.  As we think more and more about the pending worldwide water crisis, all of us in agriculture must become better versed in water conservation whether we are in high natural rainfall or irrigated environments.  That brings us back to thought of no-till farming with cover-crops and the role of grazing animals in groundwater management.

We have all heard and read those popular press articles citing how many pounds of water it takes to produce a pound of hamburger or a steak.  Some beef industry estimates are as low as 1000 lbs of water per lb of beef all the way up to 12,000 lbs of water/lb of beef claimed by some vegan groups.  Since a pound of beef only contains about 10 ounces of water, the rest of all that water has to be somewhere else.  That somewhere else is mostly in the soil or the atmosphere meaning that same water will be used for something else tomorrow or the next day or the next.

Our job is to get as much back into the soil or the deeper ground water system.  This is where MiG comes into the picture.  We use time-controlled grazing management to manipulate the amount of living plant residual and the amount of trampled litter we create in the pasture.  Both of those grazing management responses are critically important factors in managing soil water.  Infiltration rate and surface runoff are directly tied to our day-to-day grazing management choices.

When we can easily produce twice as much animal product per acre using MiG compared to ineffectively managed pastures, that translates to a doubled water use efficiency.  Think about the cost of seeding cover-crops on irrigated land and the relative return on investment between those two different management scenarios.  Regardless of the particular pasture in question.  MiG always increases the return potential.

Jim Gerrish is an independent grazing lands consultant providing service to farmers and ranchers on both private and public lands across the USA and internationally.  He can be contacted through www.americangrazinglands.com.  His books are available from the SGF Bookshelf page 20.

 

 

 

 

Permanent Ley Scheme

Horribly dry here and no chance of rain in the forecast!  However, it’s perfect for disk ploughing and rotatilling sod pastures so that they have ample opportunity for the grass that is turned up to die.  On the four paddocks i’ve selected this is mostly toxic endophyte infected fescue and other weeds.  Except for the 18 acres that i had tilled this spring and were involved in the annuals scheme, the remaining 32 acres is established pasture – pasture that has been grazed for at least 55 years.  Tilling it up created quite a clatter on my rotatiller.  Rocks, rocks, and more rocks.  There basically is no topsoil on my pastures except in the low spots along ditches.  Sad – very sad.

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Rainfall on 21 August 2017 – very nice and quickly absorbed by thirsty soil, but hot, dry, and often windy even until now 17 September 2017.

 

 

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Settings we used for a mixed sized seed batch on our John Deere 1590
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John Deere 7220 and John Deere 1590 planting permanent pasture mix.  I hope to never have to work the ground this much.  I’m no farmer!
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Seed ordered and mixed by Welter Seed & Honey.
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Note the difference sized seeds which makes how to set the no-till drill tricky.  At least for us; we are just learning.
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Dallas loading the no-till drill while Allen and Andy discuss what settings to use.

 

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Using the 7220 John Deere tractor which has front wheel assist to pull the JD 1590 no till drill.
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Here is the mix i ordered from Welter Seed & Honey, Onslow, IA.  Really appreciate their personal and quick discussion and advice.  Mixed and shipped very quickly.

 

So how in the world did i come up with this mix?  After reading Robert Elliot’s book The Clifton Park System of Farming and Laying Down Land to Grass, i’ve been interested in his trials and observations.  I used a permanent mix found from Cotswold Seeds and interestingly it is even labeled Clifton Park mix!  How weird is that?!  The link here describes it in depth;

‘LAMINS’ Drought Resistant Four Year Grazing Ley Dry, Light Land

Pulled into the first sod bound pasture land (Paddock 15) with the John Deere 4250 and the Howard Rotavator on 29 August 2017.  Granted, i know most recommendations are to have this seeding done and in no later than the 20th of August, but this year just wasn’t going to allow it.  And thankfully, i didn’t get in earlier; had i put these seeds in slightly moist soil, they may have germinated, sprouted, then dried up in this heat and dry weather.  As it is, the seeds are just resting in that super dry soil waiting for just the right conditions to grow and thrive.  The concern at planting late is that there won’t be good growth before freezing weather and a long winter.

 

(On the 1st of September, i mustered my bulls and hauled them (Allen and Dallas helped a lot), i spent too much time outside and became overcome with ragweed allergies.  This kept me sleeping and recovering in the house for two days.  Andy was able to take over for me so we kept on schedule.)

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16 September – RAIN!  Slow and gentle, but with damaging winds.  Total amount received two inches – perfect!  Yah is gracious.

 

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So to wrap it up with costs:

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Figures from 2016 Custom Rates for Farm Services in Missouri

That’s a lot of money!  and doesn’t even include the $60/acre spent earlier this year in lime spread.  Hope it all pays off – i don’t want to ever have to do it again and with managed grazing, it should last many lifetimes.

Shalom!

tauna