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In the minds of many, a freshly tilled field is picturesque – cleaned and ordered for the next planting. But we’ve learned from studying soil that heavy tillage isn’t good.

When soil is heavily tilled, the stalks and leaves remaining from the previous crop are chopped, disturbing the top several inches of soil. This “fluffing” action allows for better seed placement according to some, but soil scientists say not tilling leads to healthier, more drought-resistant soil.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and other groups recommend producers to not till and leave the stalks and leaves, called residue, in place. By not tilling, soil organic matter is enhanced, increasing water infiltration and reducing erosion.

No-till is a conservation practice that leaves the crop residue undisturbed from harvest.

Any tillage causes a flush of organic matter decomposition, resulting in loss of soil carbon. Tillage also breaks up soil aggregates, which are important for water infiltration, providing oxygen to plant roots, and reducing erosion.   

Healthy soils cycle water and nutrients more efficiently.  And they function better, enabling them to buffer against extreme drought and flooding. Plus, they reduce soil loss into waterways, which can cause problems for water quality.

Good management of field residue can increase efficiency of irrigation and control erosion. No-till can be used for many crops in almost any soil and can save producers labor costs and fuel. It’s a sound investment for the environment and the farm.

If you want more information on no-till and residue management, stop by our local field office.
USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service helps America’s farmers and ranchers conserve the nation’s soil, water, air and other natural resources. All programs are voluntary and offer science-based solutions that benefit both the landowner and the environment. Learn more at

Rebecca Weber rested one afternoon last summer against the log cabin her grandpa built 60 years ago.

Eyes closed, she breathed deeply. The air was fresh and warm here near the Middle Fork of the Popo Agie outside Lander.

As treasurer of the Wyoming FFA, Weber dedicated much of the summer to traveling in support of the organization. Here, blissfully, there were no vehicles for 45 miles in any direction.

Weber listened to the tear and crunch of grass between teeth as Bonner, her red roan Quarter horse, ate nearby.

This is what I love, she remembered thinking to herself. This is who I am, this is who I am going to be.

She wants her children and future generations to enjoy similar afternoons.

“I want to be a voice for agriculture,” Weber said. “Somebody has to stand up for our way of life and represent it.”

Weber is in her second semester at Casper College. She is working toward a degree in ag communications. Outside of school, the third generation rancher is participating in the Future Cattle Producers of Wyoming program. The program teaches the next generation the business of ranching. Participants learn production, marketing and leadership skills.

It is a rapidly changing business.

Census figures show the average age of a farmer or rancher today is 58 years old. The industry is shrinking as fewer and fewer young people enter the profession.

Global population is expected to reach nine billion people by 2050 at the same time climate change compounds issues like soil loss, damage from pests and pathogens and the availability of land and water, according to a January 2016 federal report from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Current farming techniques would require an additional land mass the size of Canada to support the population increase.

“With the availability of land shrinking, technology is the only way we can keep feeding as many people as there are with the quality of food they need,” Weber said.

Science has always been inextricably linked to successful agriculture. Producers develop genetic lines, improve crop yields and create new tools in an effort to make their work more efficient. The ties between science and food are going to grow tighter in the future, agriculture experts say.

Record drought cost California $2.2 billion and thousands of jobs in 2014, according to the policy agency. A bird flu epidemic in 2015 killed more than 48 million birds and doubled egg prices nationwide.

The solutions to problems like these – better understanding of how pathogens spread, breeding of drought-resistant crops – are rooted in science, technology, engineering and math, the agency claims.

Meanwhile, ag jobs requiring a college degree outpace graduates by 20,000 positions every year.

“The United States faces a deficit of professionals with the skills to develop workable solutions,” the report states.

The agency recommends policies ranging from graduate student fellowships and corporate research grants to new training programs for K-12 teachers to bring ag topics into the classroom.

Wyoming agriculture experts say the next generation of producers has the mettle to face the challenges ahead.

The future of ag will need people like Weber.

“We’re really going to have to be our own public relations coordinators,” Weber said. “I really noticed it with my dad’s generation, they want to keep to themselves. They don’t care if others know what they do. But for us to progress, we need to let the public know what it is we are doing, the quality work we do and why we do it.”

Weber is encouraged that her peers are strong-willed, strong-minded and have high expectations of themselves. And, while she realizes some of the challenges young producers face – like market fluctuations and cost of business – Weber said the ag community’s values won’t change either.

“I hardly ever meet a bad person in ag. We believe in a handshake to seal a deal,” Weber said. “They are focused on the job and the land, and that’s all they want. I think that’s admirable.”

Editor’s Note: This is part two of a two-part article. Look for the first installment in the April 23 Roundup.

In the right place and at the right time, manure can optimize crop yield and quality. Conversely, in the wrong place or used at the wrong time, manure’s nutrients can be considered pollution and have health and economic impacts to people, business sectors including agriculture and the environment in general.

Good management prevents phosphorus (P) runoff or nitrogen (N) leaching into ground and/or surface waters.

Concerns with manure

Land where manure has been repeatedly applied often has high-test levels of P, potassium (K) and micronutrients. While nitrogen is highly water soluble and can be washed off fields or leached through the soil by rainfall or irrigation, phosphorus and other nutrients attach to soil particles and tend to remain in the soil unless washed off fields by water erosion. Build-up of P may pose a threat to water quality and could have negative interactions with other nutrients, according to Tommy Bass, Extension associate specialist who advises on manure management.

Too much manure is often applied near feedlots, due to the cost of transporting it farther away from its source. This means fields near the source often already show high levels of P and K. Land that has not had much manure applied to it would benefit more overall, where manure N, P and K can be beneficial, providing a yield response from all nutrients.

Nitrogen leaching into groundwater is also a concern, especially in sandy or gravelly soils. Nitrate levels that can adversely affect humans or livestock have been detected in wells in Montana. According to Patrick Hensleigh, agronomist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Ecological Services in Bozeman, the NRCS uses a nitrogen risk assessment based on soils, precipitation or irrigation, management and other factors to assess the risk of nitrogen leaching from a field or farm.

Some growers believe that applying manure to alkali areas will improve the soil. However, Fehringer said repeated heavy applications of manure raise the soil test salinity level because manure contains salts. Adding it to areas that are already salty will make the situation worse. This happens more under pivot irrigation and on dryland fields, where leaching of salts is limited.

Soil compaction

Another concern Fehringer noted is that spreading manure can compact the soil, which is not good for plant growth. The type and speed of equipment used for spreading manure and the moisture content in the soil influence the extent to which the soil will be packed down. One option to minimize compaction is to load the manure into end-dump semi-trailers, dump it at the edge of a field, and load it from there onto a tractor-pulled manure spreader.

Whether by tractor or truck, spreading manure will likely leave tracks or ruts, which may require tillage to even out the soil. Spreading manure when the soil is dry will greatly lessen compaction.

Lastly, uniform application of manure is critical, just as a grower wants the fertilizer company to spread the whole field and not leave skips. Soil sampling after non-uniform application gives inaccurate test results of the situation in the field. Thus, crop yields will suffer. Sampling is best done shortly before application of manure.

Value of manure

Using a recent manure analysis of 15 pounds N, nine pounds P2O5, 18 pounds K and three pounds of sulfur (S) in a ton of a manure, and a recent fertilizer dealer cost of $0.40 per pound N, $0.50 per pound P2O5, $0.33 per pound K2O and $0.28 per pound S, Hensleigh estimated the manure’s value at $17 per ton. This estimate does not include the value of micronutrients or the increase of soil organic matter.

Fehringer noted, “When I have applied a value per unit of N, P and K contained in manure, they cost about 50 cents on the dollar versus buying them in commercial fertilizer. The major cost of manure is transporting and spreading it.”

The lower costs of N, P and K in manure hold true only if the soil needs those nutrients. When Olsen soil test P levels are over 60 parts per million (ppm), Fehringer quits having growers apply any commercial P. When K levels are over 400 ppm, he stops having growers apply K. So, if soil test P and K are above these levels and the grower applies manure, then the value of P and K from the manure is zero because those nutrients provide no additional benefit.

The nitrogen, organic matter and micronutrients are still beneficial, however. Since P tends to stay in the soils, it can build up to extremely high levels if not monitored. Fehringer said he has seen P test results as high as 435 ppm on a field that has received manure at high rates for over 30 years.

High soil P levels place an exclamation point on the need for a manure and nutrient management plan where nutrients can be allocated to fields where the needs are greatest and the grower can gain the greatest financial benefit, according to Karen Hoffman, NRCS state water quality engineer. Fields that have high P, K and micronutrient levels require only commercial nitrogen. With commercial fertilizer, producers only apply the nutrients that are needed. Bass added that applying manure at P rates and then rounding out N with a commercial product is also a sound strategy.

With so many economic, agronomic and management factors to consider, as well as the potentially daunting length and breadth of the permitting process, a conversation with a knowledgeable and trusted crop adviser may be the best place to begin.

For more information on certified crop advisers or to find one near you, go to

Wyoming Agriculture in the Classroom celebrated the 22nd Annual Bookmark Contest in Cheyenne on April 15. Ten student artists were recognized for their talented artwork and ability to convey an important message about the stewardship Wyoming’s agriculture, energy and natural resources.

The 10 students were Madelyn Robertson of East Side Elementary in Worland, Anna Grant of Converse County, Jadea Graves of Platte County, Jayde Ilg of Park County, Noell Kaiser and Nick Lawlar, both of Uinta County, Blake Miller of Niobrara County, Grace Neubauer of Fremont County, Ashli Smedley of Laramie County and Melody ZumBrunnen of Niobrara County. 

Eleven students earned honorable mention but did not attend the Cheyenne celebration. Honorable mentions went to Kailie Alcorn of Lincoln County, Cora Grant of Converse County, Teegan Hatheway of Weston County, Myah Herby of Washakie County, Mason Jones of Carbon County, Jazmin Ladwig of Niobrara County, Hadley Meyers of Carbon County, Hadley Paisley of Platte County, Sydney Spomer of Park County, Shane Teneke of Crook County and Ashlee Tims of Uinta County.

In total there were 1,450 submissions received from third, fourth and fifth graders across the state.

Other programs of Wyoming Agriculture in the Classroom include: professional development workshops for educators, educator recognition and currently developing new lessons for the classroom known as the Wyoming Stewardship Project.

For more information about the Bookmark Contest and other programs visit

Look for the winning bookmarks in the Roundup. Two bookmarks will be printed in each edition of the paper over the next five weeks. Looking for copies of bookmarks? Give the Roundup or Wyoming Ag in the Classroom a call!