Canola School: Comparing strip-till, no-till, and conventional tillage on emergence and weed control

(Kara Oosterhuis/RealAgriculture)

Plot trials are a great way to gain preliminary research findings about a particular subject. Based just outside of Lethbridge, Alta., Farming Smarter’s primary focus is applied research that helps producers make informed choices around inputs, technology and management practices for their operations.

Carlo Van Herk, research technician at Farming Smarter, walks Kara Oosterhuis through the ins and outs of a trial that examines different tillage systems and their effect on canola growth, in this Canola School episode.

“A big thing with planting canola is always residue management, so when there’s lots of residue left on the ground, there’s an improper seedbed for canola,” says Van Herk. Canola likes a nice warm seedbed, and full contact with the soil, since it’s such a small seed, he adds.

Better emergence means a more uniform stand, which can lead to more even growth and good yields. Van Herk did trials comparing conventional, no-till, and strip tilled systems and found that the no-till plots did the worst, while the conventional till plots did the best.

“The strip-tilled was, I’d say, right about in the middle, which is where I expected it, it received a little better seedbed and received a little extra moisture from the outer rows,” says Van Herk.

Looking back on the beginning of the season, the no-till plots had a lot of residue, and the canola struggled to emerge evenly. The strip tilled plots fared better, and the conventional till plots did slightly better yet.

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Soil moisture was also measured in each plot, down to a metre. Conventional till plots were drying up top, then had more moisture at 15 cm, staying at about the same moisture from 15 cm down to the full metre. The strip tilled and no-till plots, were wetter on the surface, and got wetter down to about 20 cm, then dried out from 20 cm down to the full metre.

“Usually strip tilling happens in the fall, so then of course during the winter you have all your wind erosion, however, this year we strip tilled in the spring, so we didn’t really have that much  of an issue, but of course with the wind, came the hot and dry weather, so that makes for some really interesting results as well,” says Van Herk.

The no-till plots had more weeds than the fully cultivated plots, with strip till being middle of the road with weed competition as well.

Van Herk says that an interesting thing from this trial, especially this year, is that after seeding there was a large temperature range — one night with frost, then the next week plus 35 degree weather  — the cultivated plots got quite chilly, while the no-till and strip till plots stayed about a degree and a half warmer. On the very hot days, the conventional till plots got hotter than the strip till and no-till plots.

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