Matt Heimerich is trying out some different methods of working his farmland between Crowley and Olney Springs, Colorado.
“I am not doing anything different from what a lot of other farmers are doing,” said Heimerich, “especially the younger farmers. Young people don’t necessarily want to do things just like the older folks, do they?”
Heimerich became interested in no-till farming when Mike Weber of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District took him along on a trip to South Dakota to see firsthand what the no-till farmers up there were doing.
“Of course, they get more rain than we do, and they have a lot of those circular sprinklers, but they really do leave the organic matter on their soil, and it is successful there," said Heimerich." Heimerich and the other farmers in his area get their water from the Colorado Canal.
“We don’t get as much water as the people on the Catlin,” he said, “but I will probably water this field of triticale a couple of times.”
Triticale is a hybrid of wheat and rye first bred in laboratories in Scotland and Germany during the late 19th century in Scotland and Germany.
He will use flood irrigation, the most common method of irrigation in the valley, when he does. The first time will be in early May.
“This is the second crop on this field, and we will harvest it in July and then plant a third crop here, maybe wheat or sorghum for silage," he said.
Heimerich will harvest when the crop is about waist high but before the grain heads are mature.
“The grain heads have a barb, and cattle don’t like to eat them," he said. "We chop up these crops and age them in silos, where they get more tender and develop sugar. The cattle love them.”
Remnants of the old crop that has not been turned over makes a sort of thatch in the former furrows, and it retains moisture and keeps the ground cooler in the heat. Snow stays on the ground longer, melts slower and retains moisture in the ground.
Recently, Heimerich tested the level of moisture retained in the field and found it to be about a foot down.
“We got lucky this year with the moisture we have had,” he said.
“You got to watch the bottom dollar,” he said. “Tilling the ground can cost you about $100 an acre. Not tilling cuts out expense for diesel or gasoline, wear and tear on your tractor and labor.”
The catch, Heimerich said, is that you need a heavy-duty drill to plant the seeds through the ground-cover layer.
There is more than one advantage to planting with the drill. The seeds are placed more firmly in the moisture-bearing level of the ground.
Heimerich was lucky to find a well-maintained Sunflower drill at an auction for a good price. He hopes that the conservancy districts may consider buying the machines and leasing them to farmers in the area.
“No-till is not for all crops, like vegetables, for instance,” said Heimerich. “This sandy-loam clay soil is good for flood irrigation. It drains well.”
Being successful in farming depends on the bottom line, and no-till has a future in the large-field crops like wheat, triticale and sorghum.