During a special monthlong campaign called "No Till November," the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service is encouraging Nebraska farmers to "keep the stubble" on harvested crop fields and improve soil health.
The project is mirrored after the national cancer awareness "No Shave November" campaign. The "No Till November" encourages farmers to keep a different kind of stubble by parking tillage equipment in their machine sheds this fall and keep crop stubble on their fields.
"No till farming is a cornerstone soil health practice, which also promotes water quality while saving farmers time and money," says State Conservationist Craig Derickson. "One of the first soil health principles is 'do not disturb.' This campaign is a fun way to remind farmers about the important relationship between tillage and soil health."
Improving soil health increases soil biological activity, which provides erosion control, and nutrient benefits, and can simulate tillage.
Corey Brubaker, Nebraska State Conservation agronomist, says fall tillage disturbs soil and removes valuable cover that can leave soil exposed and unprotected during harsh winter months. Other field-disturbing practices like baling cornstalks also removes valuable cover and nutrients from the field.
"Farmers who bale cornstalks for livestock bedding or sell it to other livestock producers could be entering into a losing proposition due to the lost nutrient value and soil health benefits," Brubaker says.
Based on current commodity prices and the nutrient value in each bale, Brubaker advises farmers to leave crop residue in the field, especially if the fields that are highly erodible and subject to conservation compliance.
"The plant residue left in the field after harvest is a valuable resource," Brubaker says. "The value in cornstalks can be better used for reducing soil erosion, providing extra organic matter content in the soil and contributing nutrients back to the soil."
Conservationists at NRCS say the best thing producers can do for their cropland is to leave it undisturbed as much as possible. This month, they are encouraging producers to not till their fields and keep crop residue in place to replenish the soil.
For more information on how to protect and improve soil quality, contact your local NRCS office or ne.nrcs.usda.gov.