Among the normal risks of increased soil erosion and loss of moisture, fall tillage could ruin producers' opportunities to qualify for the Conservation Security Program (CSP), says Barb Stewart, State Agronomist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Iowa.
"One of the tools used to evaluate CSP applications and the amount of CSP payment is the Soil Conditioning Index," says Stewart. This tool helps conservationist evaluate the health of the soil based on tillage practices and other factors. The more tillage used, the worse the score.
With the next round of CSP watersheds expected to be announced yet this fall, producers should pay close attention to their tillage practices. "Farmers who decide to till ground run the serious risk of jeopardizing their eligibility for the program this year and in future years," says Stewart.
This is because tillage breaks down soil quality, which is a factor used in the CSP application process. This reduced soil quality, results in less water infiltration because of less organic matter (carbon), crusting on the soil surface and the collapse of healthy soil structure.
CSP, new in the 2002 Farm Bill and first offered last summer in 18 U.S. watersheds, is designed to award the best conservation farmers for their past efforts and motivate others to do more. It is administered by the NRCS. Records from at least the past two years are used to help determine eligibility.
"It is difficult to determine a good reason to till the soil after harvest, especially soybean fields," says Stewart. "And with the additional risk of losing CSP eligibility, it is a management decision that is very difficult to justify."