Tennessee exporting no-till knowledge

No-till cropping systems have been such a success in Tennessee that sometimes growers take them for granted. But the idea and technologies behind “spare the plow and save the soil” are a big success story to farmers in other reaches of the globe.

In August, a key agricultural researcher from the African nation of Lesotho visited the University of Tennessee’s research plots in Jackson and Milan to study how no-till, cover crops, and rotation crops are being used. During a weeklong visit coordinated by Neal Eash and Forbes Walker of the Department of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science, Makoala Marake also met with Vice-president of Agriculture Joseph DiPietro, deans, and department heads at the UT Institute of Agriculture and their counterparts at Tennessee State University.

Marake is head of the Department of Soil Science and Resource Conservation at the National University of Lesotho and is adviser to his nation’s king on issues of resource conservation. His visit here is the latest exchange in a growing partnership involving the Institute of Agriculture, Tennessee State University, NUL, the Ministry of Agriculture of Lesotho, and affiliated agencies centered on disseminating no-till and other conservation crop management systems in the African nation.

Eash, Walker, and Joshua Idassi of TSU have been awarded a three-year, $99,600 international science education grant to aid the partnership. The funds will support setting up and monitoring research trials in different ecological zones in Lesotho and, in the final year, conducting joint study tours for students and faculty. The partnership has also attracted a grant from the Kellogg Foundation, and other funding is being pursued.

“The initial soil conditions that existed in western Tennessee before no-till are about where we are here now in Lesotho,” Marake said. “So the problems you have overcome in the past 30 years and the ongoing research to find the technologies are very relevant to us. They’ll probably save us many years of effort on our own.

“People don’t quite seem to believe they would do as well in no-till as they do with conventional-tillage, so we’re conducting trials to demonstrate how effective it can be with crops such as corn, sorghum, wheat, and beans, which are our major crops.”

In March, Eash and Walker visited Lesotho to look at research trials implemented on corn. “We’re seeing yields on par with Tennessee corn yields,” Walker said. “When you consider Lesotho’s average yield is seven bushels per acre, and they appear headed toward harvesting about 120 bushels per acre in the no-till trial, those are great strides ahead.”

Walker is pleased with the progress the partnership is making in funding, as well. “We’re progressing in securing support, and we have also defined the studies we will implement this year.”

“This arrangement is on the express lane,” Marake said with enthusiasm.

TAGS: Management
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