Farmers Dig Deep To Save on Fuel Costs
In a farm field near Longmont, a tractor pulls a contraption called a "Strip Tiller" through the stubble of last year's corn crop. Three generations of farmers watch the demonstration, organized by the Longmont Conservation District.
"I just think it's a good opportunity to see if it works, and see if we can save some money," says Mike Litzenberger, a local farmer.
The machine cuts a foot-deep groove into the soil where sugar beets will be planted next spring.
This method requires only two trips across the field, instead of the six or seven required by conventional farming techniques. This can save a typical farmer thousands of dollars in fuel costs.
"It's about doubled in the last year or so. It should be a tremendous savings in fuel," Longmont Conservation District's Bill Haselbush says.
The main reason the Soil Conservation Service is promoting the idea, however, is to reduce soil erosion. Instead of turning the soil over with a plow and discing it until it's practically powder, this method leaves stubble in the field and that should help hold the soil in place.
"A lot of times in the spring you'll see topsoil blowing. With this strip till machine it should eliminate that," Haselbush adds.
They hope this tilling technique will also conserve water used for irrigation. Tim Carney, also of the Longmont Conservation District, says "By having crop residue on the surface that acts as a mulch, it may help reduce the need for that first irrigation in the spring. And there's less potential for soil erosion as well."
The real test, however, comes next fall when the crop is harvested. Farmers will weigh the harvest from these test plots and see how it measures up to conventional farming.
The Soil Conservation District is testing the low-till technique on eight farms in northern Colorado. The demonstration will last two years.