GHGMP Project Reports by Region

Nova Scotia producers demonstrate zero-till crops

New approach to crop production can help reduce costs and benefit the environment

Several sites across Nova Scotia are being monitored this summer and fall to determine the impact a change to direct seeding can have on crop production, soil quality and the environment.

Tye no-till drill.

The demonstrations at four farms across the province are designed to compare the effects of conventionally tilled crop production with new direct seeding or zero-till techniques, says Rob Michitsch, regional co-ordinator of the Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Program for Canadian Agriculture (GHGMP) related to soils and crops. The Nova Scotia projects are among dozens of projects across the country, partially funded by the federal GHGMP, which are geared to demonstrate farming practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Michitsch (pronounced Mikitch) is monitoring two field-scale plots at each farm - one tilled and seeded under conventional practices and the other that was direct seeded using equipment such as the U.S.-made Tye no-till drill. At one farm, a third plot was added to demonstrate reduced tillage seeding practices. All plots will be monitored for soil quality and greenhouse gas emission levels as well as crop yields.

The no-till option

No-till in Nova Scotia.

"We're demonstrating options to conventional tillage," says Michitsch. "Intensive tillage such as moldboard plowing to prepare a seed bed has degraded soil quality. Tillage reduces soil structure and organic matter and increases the risk of erosion." Improved soil structure is important to proper moisture and nutrient cycling, and helps retain moisture under dry conditions.

Zero till farming helps reduce the production of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. Plants are able to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it as carbon in plant tissue and in the soil. Tillage releases that carbon back into the atmosphere. Also, reduced field operations means a reduction in the use of fossil fuels, which also release carbon dioxide as they're burned, and a large time savings for individual producers.

Each demonstration site has a side-by-side comparison of conventional tillage and zero-till practices. The conventional till method involves fall and spring tillage prior to planting. The reduced tillage system involves seeding directly into stubble with the Tye seeder, for example. The conservation tillage involves a single pass with a harrow before seeding.

Several crops

Undisturbed soil benefits the environment and helps reduce production costs.

The various tillage/seeding treatments are being demonstrated on corn grown for silage, and barley and spring wheat grown for grain crops.

At the end of the season crop yields will be measured at the various sites, and tissues will be analysed mainly for nitrogen and protein content. Soil tests will be made to determine nutrient analysis as well as soil bulk density, which determines the amount of organic matter and potential for compaction.

A recently developed field test kit will be used to measure any changes in greenhouse gas emissions from soil under the various tillage treatments at the site demonstrating conventional, reduced and no-till practices.

"It's an ongoing project that will continue over the next couple years," says Michitsch. "The anticipated outcome is to increase awareness of reduced tillage practices and encourage producers to implement these practices on their farms.

"In adopting a no-till system benefits should include improved soil structure, decreased soil erosion, increased soil organic matter, reduced fuel consumption, reduced time spent tilling the field, a wider window for both planting and harvesting, and a decrease in carbon dioxide emissions released into the atmosphere."

Regional reports will be posted as information becomes available. Please check back regularly for updates.