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Rule out no-till as the cause of this crop damage problem

Rule out no-till as the cause of this crop damage problem

No-till takes more heat than it may deserve for crop damage problems.

Mention that you have a problem with corn or soybeans, either emergence or crop injury, and the first question many people will likely ask you is, "Did you no-till the field?" No-till seems to take the rap for crop problems, whether a cause is clear or not.

Related: 7 tips for growing better no-till soybeans

To be fair, agronomists note that sometimes it does contribute to the problem. If soybeans are planted into heavy residue, right into an old row, they may be slower to emerge through the residue. If there is an extreme amount of cover, and soils are cooler and weather and seedlings take longer to emerge, they may be more vulnerable to herbicides or organisms setting there in the soil.

Conventional suffers too: Whatever was happening in this soybean field causing plants to die was happening in both no-till and conventional ground.

Seed treatments help eliminate part of the concern with many organisms that might invade young seedlings.

The problem is often that there is nothing to compare to – if a problem shows up in a no-till field, there is no side-by-side comparison with conventional tillage planted by the same farmer, the same day in the same way to check and compare.

Here's a case where there was a comparison. A farmer was noticing problems with soybeans dying as or soon after emergence no-tilled his fields. However, the ends in some fields were ripped and prepared conventionally. When he looked for the problem, it was just as apparent, and in the same hit-and-miss fashion, as in the no-till portion planted into corn stalks in 15-inch rows.

In fact, the stand appeared to be thinner in parts of the conventionally tilled portion, but that wasn't documented. It's also true that the conventional till was on the ends, although the ends today come out a long way from the fence row.

Related: No-till corn know-how

What the farmer saw was enough to convince him that whatever his problem was, it had nothing to do with tillage. It was an equal-opportunity problem, showing up in both no-till and conventional locations.

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