Monday, February 6, 2012
The following unedited Yeomans Keyline Plow client field report was relayed to us by Mr. Dean Yancey and his wife Wanda at - Agrotecy, Lowville, NY. Further inquiries of their local services may be made directly to them or us and we will pass along the requests.
Agrotecy-Interesting Crop Trials 2011
Fields aerated last year broke their yield records in June. A Yeoman thin shank plow was used to rip slots eight to eleven inches deep along contours the previous summer. These slots allowed air and rain to infiltrate deeper. Soil microbes bloomed during the warm rainy weather. Composted manure, wood ashes, and lime dust supplied necessary nutrients cheaply. The Yeoman plow disturbs upper layers so little that we can mow within a month. It can fracture hard pans down to thirty inch depth with proper attachments. Furthermore, we often plant grass seed or corn with pot seeders on each shank.
This unique pattern of contour plowing is known worldwide as key-line method. It originated in Australia where currently one third of the crop production uses it. We have found more forage yield on hill ridges as well as the basins since improving rain infiltration. With less rain runoff you get less erosion, fertilizer leeching, stream pollution, and mud holes. In fact, the forages are taking over wet holes. We used to get stuck often while round baling during rainy years. During droughts ridge soils are no longer dusty.
Our soils are darker, more granular like coffee grounds. Compaction is not a problem and we can mow faster on the smooth spongy soil. Soil organic matter tested seven percent on the Tugg Hill clay silt and four percent on sandy loam in Beaver Falls. All of our land receives similar nutrients in varied proportions to find the best economics. Aeration plowing improved yields profitably on our best Tugg Hill land and on our worst sandy loam. We will stop plowing when the earth worm population takes over the job of aeration.
It is evident that hundreds of acres of sandy soil in the Beaver River-Watson area suffer low productivity due to deep naturally formed iron hard pans. We found subsoiling with the Yeoman plow to be much cheaper than tiling which throws away valuable ground water and dissolved nutrients. The Yeoman plow goes deeper pulls easier has less maintenance cost and more attachment versatility than other subsoilers, chisel plows, and aerators. It’s useful for improving low productive land cheaply. Come see for yourself.
Participating in the replanting of six acres of clover on deer plots with our no-till grass seeder was an eye opener. Three inches of top soil has formed on sandy soil in just three years and now the hunting club is producing trophy deer.
I can now believe Allen Yeoman, inventor of our plow. He uses no-till planters and aeration plowing to build top soil of grazing land much faster than conventional farming loses it. After plowing prior to the warm rainy season he broadcasts phosphate fertilizer for the legumes. These produce nitrogen fertilizer for the grasses. Cattle or sheep contribute manure while mowing the forages. Grasses shed excessive root material when the tops are cutoff by animals or machines. Otherwise the roots would suffocate and starve from the lack of oxygen and food after losing leaf area. Microbes convert the root residue into humus and release nutrients for regrowth. On hilly land Australians build a series of dams in the gullies and flood irrigate with contour ditches. Trees planted in belts along contours improve water infiltration. Trees also lift nutrients from the subsoil into their leaves. Wind spreads the leaves giving the land a cheap fertilizer complete with trace minerals.
Agricultural scientists now agree with Yeoman that global warming could be reversed by sequestering atmospheric carbon dioxide and storing it in the soil as humus. Plants remove the gas as they grow soil microbes later convert dead plants into humus, a complex rich in carbon dioxide elements. Adding only one point six percent humus to the world’s agricultural top soils would reverse the global warming trend, according to Yeoman. Scientists add that agriculture is capable of sequestering twenty percent of annual carbon dioxide produced by human technology.
More humus is needed to improve crop yield, health, and cost. The growing population demands more crop production. Increased yield has come at the expense of less crop health because conventional agriculture mines away the humus. Microbes continually consume soil organic matter including some of the more stable humus. It must be replenished, usually by rotations including grass crops. Even in our corn belt we have lost over half of the soil organic matter and are becoming more dependent on pesticides to support our malnourished crops. According to agronomists the crops probably lack “vitamins” only available from healthy soils rich in microbes and humus. It works in my garden, never was better in twenty years experience.
Farmers in Australia are receiving carbon credit payments for building up soil humus. Likely America will follow suit once we understand the idea. They are also improving their soils and their profits rapidly with “pasture cropping.” At the start of the dry season they no-till grain into the pastures. As the native grasses go dormant the grain competes nicely. In a few years continuous cropping builds up enough humus on their worn out soils to reduce pesticide and chemical fertilizer requirement. The modest yields of grain are profitable since input costs are low. Years of bad weather are still profitable and the practice is spreading to areas beyond Australia. Some regions have been limited by rainfall. Tugg Hill should be better. We plant Master’s Choice grazing corn while aerating fields with our Yeoman plow. This high energy forage can be round baled. Our system eliminates the hiring of custom corn planters and purchase of pesticides to grow corn. Soil health is easy to sustain when producing continuous high yields of crops without rapid destruction of humus (typical of soil tillage). Our Tugg Hill land is too stony and the hills too steep for conventional tillage. A wing knife on each shank of the Yeoman plow folds back a one foot wide strip of sod as we aerate to subsoil depth. Pot seeders on each shank (four foot spacing), dribble out seed while the wing knife mixes it with soil. Germination was great even in the June drought on our sandy test plot. However, we need more corn starter fertilizer to compete with second cutting growth of hay.
We avoid muddy fall corn harvesting.. Hay fields are not as muddy as tilled fields. Furthermore, grazing corn planted early June is harvested at tassel stage in mid-August. The crop can out yield any other in that two month period. We can follow it with no-till, no kill planting of winter crops triticale and ryegrass on top of the summer crop. All have energy levels similar or higher than conventional cob corn silage without the excessive starch.
We are thrilled to hear that a Pennsylvania farmer produced fourteen tons of crop dry matter per acre annually. Experts think we could obtain ten tons per acre here using the BMR corn sorghum-sudan grass forage, brassicas, and millet followed by no-till planting of winter crops triticale, ryegrass, cereal rye, spelt, and vetch combinations. The winter crops are harvested or grazed a couple times until early June and then the fields disked lightly, limed, and manured .Then the cycle repeats with a new combination of these crops. This rotation maintains humus without a long time out to reestablish hay fields. However, a summer legume should be included to maintain soil nitrogen. Forage soybean is a promising choice for grazers, cattle eat the best part (big leaves) and it regrows rapidly.
Royal A. Purdy
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