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Fluid Journal : Fluid Journal 1993-1995
1 Fluid Journal Late Spring 1993 "It's a Better System Management-Wise" So says Iowa farmer Ben Flathers about his ridge-till system, during interview with the Fluid Journal. FJ: How long have you been mulch tilling? For 27 years. FJ: How did you get started? We were in the business of selling fertilizer. Our business was growing faster than we could keep up. We were also farming 500 to 600 acres --- trying to plow it, disk it and all of those conventional types of things. I went to a fertilizer meeting and sat beside a man who'd tried ridge-till farming on Missouri River bottom ground. Can't remember his name but he suggested I should think about trying it. So I spent the winter researching ridge planting and found the planter we're still using today. FJ: You found advantages in ridge- till. Yes, I've no-tilled and it's left wanting when compared to the ridge- till system. Ridge-till is a step above --- takes better management. FJ: Does the same comparison apply to conventional-till? Oh, yes. In erosion control especially. You also get a lot better soil structure development over the years. Soils have better tilth, organic matter and absorb water better. For example, our organic matter when we switched ran from 1.5 to 2 percent on our best ground. With ridge-till, we've built it up to 4.5 to 5 percent organic matter and we're still improving. FJ: You've concentrated on increasing organic matter in your soil. What have you done to increase soil productivity? There's something we learned when we first started and we've never forgotten. With the ridge-till system, when you push residue into the center of the rows and add a little nitrogen and sulfur to it, you've got a perfect mulch bed. Over a period of time, you get more organic matter built tip than you would with no-till where you leave it spread out on top of the ground. We move the residue to the middle, add a little nitrogen and sulfur and it becomes like a huge sponge and decays. You can't pour enough water on it to make it run off. FJ: How do your yields compare with those of your neighbors? As good, hopefully better. My wife and I entered the National Corn Grower's contest this year. She won second in the state. FJ: What was her yield? Averaged 191 bushels per acre. FJ: What about moisture? We used to think that we had a definite advantage only in the dry years. We've changed our minds on that. Last year, with too much moisture, the ridges didn't have wet feet. At harvesttime, the soil structure was such that we could go in when other operators couldn't. FJ: Is most of the residue gone by harvesttime? Yes. But the soil structure is different --- granular instead of muddy. FJ: How long did it take you to get the system stabilized? We say it takes about five years before you really see it start to work. We used to think that over that period you might see a little yield reduction. Not anymore. Herbicides, improved equipment, fertilizers and placement have all changed that. FJ: During the last 27 years you must have tried different methods of applying liquid fertilizers You must have had successes and failures. Explain how you evolved to your present use of liquid fertilizer. For years we knifed in between the rows ahead of planting. We applied nitrogen and half our P and K. The rest of our P and K we applied as a starter. That worked well, but we decided to change to the spoke wheel. The benefits were several. We cut our power to 3 hp per wheel. We can run two days on a tank of fuel. And it helped stretch the season. We begin in the spring, applying liquid fertilizer into the side of the ridge about 8 inches from where the old row was. That's about two-thirds of the way down the side of the ridge. We run a coulter mounted on a Buffalo cultivator frame with wheels on it. The coulter runs ahead of the spoke wheel. The wheel running in the soft ridge will actually go in about two inches below the depth band on the wheel. That way, we're getting fertilizer nice and deep about five or six inches. FJ: Describe your fertilizer program. Last year, we applied 90 pounds of nitrogen through the wheel, along with phosphorus, potash. zinc and sulfur.
Fluid Journal 1996-1998