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A gentler kind of drill

A no-till drill, recently purchased through grant funding by the Klamath Soil and Water Conservation District, sits in a Klamath Reclamation Project lease land plot near Tulelake. Rick Woodley of the Klamath Soil and Water Conservation District demonstrates how the district's newest no-till drill works. The district has purchased a second drill for growers in the Klamath Basin to lease.

Demand from Basin growers to lease a no-till grain drill from the Klamath Soil and Water Conservation District has been so high that the district has purchased a second one.

"Interest has been increasing ... to the point that we couldn't get to everyone who wanted it," said Rick Woodley of the district. So far this spring, 23 growers have signed up to lease one of the drills.

Drought conditions, along with a request for water conservation by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and increasing fuel costs aided the district in its decision to purchase the second no-till drill this year.

The drills can directly seed multiple grain and grass varieties and apply fertilizer in one application into untilled ground, reducing the amount of fuel and water a grower needs to use. Conventional tilling costs $15 to $17 per acre, said Woodley. With each pass through a field for regular tilling, planting and fertilizing, a grower's production costs rise.

Water usage also decreases when the drill is used. Moisture in the soil is not lost to evaporation since the field isn't tilled before it is seeded. The first irrigation in a field is often delayed with no-till practices.

"Seed goes into moist ground," Woodley said. "When you can postpone or eliminate an irrigation, that's pretty significant."

No-till practices are catching on in the Basin and a few farmers have even purchased drills for their own farming operations.

Sam Henzel and his brother and partner Thurston Henzel have purchased a no-till drill for their operation, Henzel Brothers.

"We anticipate it will be a significant portion of our operation from now on," said Sam Henzel. "The concept of the no-till drill is one that we're going to embrace and expand in our farming operation."

Henzel Brothers is planning on conducting its own field tests with the equipment.

"We will experiment with different crop regimens," Henzel said. "Specifically if we're going to be able to flood a piece of property and go back and be able to utilize the no-till on it the next year."

The drill uses 25 discs that cut a 15-foot-wide swath of rows for seed and fertilizer. The discs on the drill can be adjusted to cut a row 1/4- to 3/4-inch deep for seed placement.

Increased yields have been seen on a significant number of irrigators' crops, said Woodley.

"We've had no decrease in yields," Woodley said. The decrease in operating costs are a benefit to the grower.

"If a grower can see his yield is the same or 10 to 15 percent lower because of reduced till practices - he's still gaining dollars per acre," Woodley said.

Other pluses that have been found with no-till practices are lower fertilizer application rates, healthier root stock and plants, decreased erosion and better tilth.

"In sandier soils tilth becomes critically important," Woodley said.

Two things that haven't changed with using the no-till drill are weeds and bugs. Control practices for weeds and insects still remain the same, Woodley said.

The ability to inter-seed an existing crop was a use for the no-till drill that Woodley hadn't looked for. The district has been able to use the drill on acreage with an older crop of alfalfa.

"The biggest thing that's been neat is inter-seeding," Woodley said. "A 5- or 6-year-old alfalfa crop can be inter-seeded with oats, triticale or forage crop.

"We hadn't anticipated that kind of application."

The district purchased its first no-till grain drill in 2002, with grants from seven agencies. It has since been used for 103 jobs in the Basin.

The newest drill was purchased this year with grants from a variety of sources.

"We're in a continued process of procuring funding," Woodley said.

The second machine is identical to the first to eliminate the need for growers to learn how to use two different pieces of equipment.

The decision in 2002 to provide a no-till drill to growers in the Klamath Basin, with its shorter growing season, wasn't hastily made.

"We spent probably two years researching before we made the decision to purchase," Woodley said. "You don't get two chances in this Basin.

"First year we didn't allow more than 20 percent of a field used for no-till."

And for the most part the no-till drill project has been a success story for the district. Out of the 103 jobs the drill has completed, only one of them was disappointing.

"As of now we've had one application that we were not satisfied with," Woodley said. "It doesn't work for everything."

The biggest obstacle the district faced, said Woodley, was in trying to no-till into heavy wheat stubble with thick and matted chaff rows following harvest, especially following a wet spring.

"The chaff row needs to be disbursed as you harvest," Woodley said, also adding that burning or baling the leftover straw helps get rid of extra debris.

The drills are stored at Floyd A. Boyd Co., a farm equipment business in Merrill that also delivers and maintains the drills.

"They've been a very willing partner in this," Woodley said. "They're an integral part of the operation."

The cost to lease the drill from the district is $9 per acre with a $150 minimum and a $65 delivery fee.

For more information about no-till and minimum tillage practices, contact Woodley at the district at 883-6932, ext. 117, or Larry Peach at ext. 106.





Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM  Pacific

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