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Soil Health & Conservation

No-Till Drill

The RCD owns a large rangeland no-till seed drill which is available for rent at low cost to landowners. The NTD is available for $100/day for residents within the GRRCD and $150/day for residents outside of the district. Each year, the drill is typically used by 15 to 20 landowners and we receive inquiries from an additional 10 to 15 landowners. The drill is typically used in western Sonoma and Marin counties, although we have received requests from as far away as Monterey and Yolo counties. In 2014, the drill was used on approximately 200 acres, and since 2011, the drill has been used cumulatively on over 1,100 acres.

Our machine is a Great Plains 606NT 6-foot No Till Drill (NTD). The NTD is a towed seeding implement and it has a working width of 7.5 feet. The opener discs make a seed bed, and seed tubes mounted between the discs place seed in the furrow. Press wheels following the opener discs close the furrow and gauge opener seeding depth.

Benefits of conservation tillage: Depending on its condition or state, soils are a living dynamic organism that functions in a holistic way, rather than as an inanimate mixture of sand, silt, and clay (Doran, 1999). Soils are neither good nor bad; rather soils are either healthy or unhealthy, the difference being that healthy soils have the capacity:
  • To function as a vital living system (within ecosystem and land use boundaries);
  • To sustain biological productivity;
  • To promote the quality of air and water environments; and
  • To maintain plant, animal, and human health.
The practice of conservation tillage contributes substantially to better soil health as compared to the practice of conventional plowing. Most importantly, conservation tillage reduces the impacts of soil erosion – erosion carries away soil, nutrients and organic matter. Based on 2009 USDA estimates, the total cost of eroded soil is between $6.10 and $6.40 per ton.

No-till seeding provides winter vegetative cover without tilling the soil, improving soil permeability and reducing both runoff and erosion. Because there is no tillage, use near water bodies does not endanger water quality but acts to protect and enhance it, as improving vegetative cover during the winter further reduces runoff and erosion. A no-till approach leaves plant residue (from harvest, cover cropping, etc.) on the surface, rather than tilling it in, which further protects the soil from erosion and imparts additional benefits.

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