Hunters are always looking for a new way to improve their opportunities. From planting fields of green to charring the woods with a routine prescribed burn, there are many ways to manipulate the land to improve conditions that are beneficial to wildlife.
Food plots are one of the chief habitat-management techniques that provide either a temporary or semi-permanent food source for wildlife throughout the year. The long list of variables required to fall in synch and produce a thick, lush plot are sometimes tough to manage. However, if land managers are willing to alter their planting procedures and incorporate no-till drilling methods, the benefits may actually outweigh the risks and leave a little bit of money in the bank.
Anybody who has spent much time in the food-plot game understands the investments of time and cash required can be immense to produce a productive food plot wildlife will use on a regular basis. From battling weed competition to controlling moisture in the soil, no-till drilling can help curve some of the typical issues associated with conventional tillage.
So, what exactly is no-till drilling? This method of cultivation utilizes a specialized piece of farm machinery to reduce the area of impact to a narrow band by injecting the seed into the soil without mass disturbance from traditional deep plowing or disking.
The no-till drilling method was first developed more than 50 years ago on a mountain farm in Haywood County, N.C. John Kirkpatrick developed a primitive form of no-till farming to prevent erosion on a steep slope by only tilling a narrow band and then following up with a traditional planter.
No-till drilling has many benefits for farmers trying to establish a commercial crop and to the hobbyist trying to establish a thriving food plot for his wildlife. To start off with, no-till will prevent soil erosion in areas that are considered vulnerable after cultivation. And no-till will allow soils to retain moisture on well-drained or dry sites. Moisture becomes a critical limiting factor during the planting season and often delays planting during dry periods.
But the most-important message for farmers and food plotters is that no-till will keep money in the bank by significantly reducing weedy competition without the use of costly herbicides. Weed competition is probably the No.1 issue with food plots. Tilling fields promotes weed competition.
Traditional deep plowing is the typical method that turns the soil, exposes weedy roots and kills all existing weedy invaders. Yet the newly-plowed soil exposes millions and millions of native weed seeds. After a little bit of rain and sunshine, these quickly germinate and join in the battle to occupy every square inch of exposed soil. The remnant residue from last season’s crop of sorghum, triticale, wheat or other small grain crop will create a dense thatch barrier that prevents sunlight from reaching the dormant weed seeds buried within the soil.
Even if no crops were planted before and the idle food plot is covered in weeds, a pre-planting treatment of glyphosate will kill all of the existing vegetation to help create a thatch barrier for planting.
While not 100-percent effective for preventing weeds in warm-season and cool-season plots, the thatch barrier will allow the planted crop a chance to grow before pesky weeds arrive. A thatch barrier will provide a similar effect to using an application of pre-emergent herbicide. Some food-plot seeds are not resistant to the effects of pre-emergent herbicides. No-till can offer the weed protection these seeds need to grow and flourish.
Before drilling the seed, the cover crop should be sprayed with glyphosate to kill off any existing vegetation and allowed to fall over.
No-till drilling can be a low-cost and environmental friendly approach to growing successful food plots for wildlife by reducing the issues farmers typically encounter.
Farmers and landowners wishing to use a no-till drilling method do not need to necessarily purchase a no-till drill to get started. These units can be rented from farm-equipment supply stores. In some cases, county agriculture extension offices will have no-till drills available for short-term lease at very reasonable prices.