IT'S SIMPLE, really. If you're going to use Roundup Ready® crops, you get full benefits with conservation tillage. Sure, they'll produce just fine on plowed fields. But no-till and reduced tillage systems optimize cost savings, often with higher yields.

“Conservation tillage produces yields that compare with conventional tillage but with a much smaller investment in time, dollars and equipment. It results in increased profits,” says John Bradley, Monsanto conservation tillage specialist.

In three years of tests at Monsanto's Centers of Excellence farms (1998, 1999, 2000), cotton production costs were up to $35 per acre lower for Roundup Ready and Bollgard® varieties in conservation tillage systems. At the same time, yields increased 42 pounds per acre. That meant conservation tillage systems increased profit $55 per acre.

Similar tests showed Roundup Ready narrow-row, no-till soybeans racking up $20 an acre more profit than conventional beans. Roundup Ready strip-till corn returned up to $20 an acre more profit than conventional.

Weed control, once the toughest component of conservation tillage systems, is now much more easily managed with Roundup Ready crops.

Start with a clean field and you have a much better chance of success. Bradley considers a clean field to be one where all live vegetation, including cover crops and weeds, has been terminated before no-till or conservation tillage crops are planted.

It's particularly key in cotton, where young plants struggle to establish root systems while competing with weeds for moisture, sunlight and nutrients. That's why many cotton growers now go with a two-application burndown herbicide strategy. They use at least 26 ounces of Roundup UltraMAX per acre, two to three weeks before planting, or as soon as the cover crop is 20 inches to 30 inches tall.

Then, up through cotton's four-leaf stage, they make either one or two over-the-top applications of Roundup UltraMAX. A second application, if needed, may be made after a 10-day interval and after cotton has grown at least two internodes.

“A broadcast sprayer and a post-direct hooded or shielded sprayer should take care of all herbicide applications in a no-till situation. For applications after the fourth true leaf stage in Roundup Ready cotton, a post-directed application of Roundup UltraMAX should provide total coverage across rows. Nozzles should be set to keep the spray at or below the cotyledon scar to avoid contact with cotton leaves,” Bradley says.

“It is very important that the post-directed application, after the fourth true leaf stage, be directed under the leaves to minimize foliar contact with the cotton plant. To accomplish this, place nozzles in a low position to allow spray overlap in the row, while keeping the spray below the leaves.”

Proper use of the Roundup Ready system can eliminate using other herbicides. Three years of tests at Monsanto's Centers of Excellence research farms showed a Roundup Ready no-till system returning $20 per acre more than conservation tillage and $45 per acre more than conventional tillage.

“The additional profit per acre was primarily due to lower overall herbicide costs. The treatments with the lowest cost across all locations were non-residual, no-till systems with Roundup Ready cotton. All treatments or comparisons had the same effective weed control,” Bradley says.

Be prepared to use a post-directed or hooded sprayer when you use the Roundup Ready system. “Reduced tillage requires a good post-direct or hooded sprayer. Present Roundup Ready technology allows for the cotton to be sprayed over-the-top of the entire cotton plant from emergence through the fourth true leaf,” Bradley says.

“Equipment should be sturdy, well-maintained and ready to use. Check spray tips and screens, hoses, clamps and pumps regularly for wear and replace them if needed. Also check sprayers to make sure spray patterns and coverage are adequate.”

The Roundup Ready system also simplifies soybean weed control, particularly in no-tilled fields. Roundup UltraMAX can control most weeds in soybean fields, without costly tank mixes with residual herbicides. Roundup UltraMAX can be applied over-the-top of Roundup Ready soybeans anytime between emergence and flowering. First, the Roundup Ready soybean system starts with a preplant burndown application of Roundup UltraMAX.

In corn, Roundup UltraMAX can be applied on Roundup Ready corn before, during or after planting. Weeds should be less than 4 inches tall. Roundup UltraMax also can be used alone or in tank mixes over-the-top of the crop. Several preplant residual and postemergence herbicides can be used in this no-till corn system, including Bullet®, Lariat®, Harness®, Harness® Xtra, Degree® and Degree Xtra If weeds compete with the corn crop as it progresses, Roundup Ultra MAX can be applied to control late-emerging and perennial weeds.

Always read and follow label directions. Roundup® brand herbicides will kill plants that do not contain the Roundup Ready gene. Roundup®, Roudup Ready®, Bollgard®, Roundup UltraMAX, Bullet®, Lariat®, Harness®, Degree® and Degree Extra are trademarks of Monsanto Technology LLC. ©2001 Monsanto Company.

Conservation tillage retrofitting planter tips

  • If you have to retrofit a planter, use a heavy-duty tool bar to help it handle rough field conditions and hold the extra weight of attachments. A 7-inch by 7-inch main tool bar should do the job.

  • Use strong down-pressure springs. You'll need them to make sure the planter doesn't ride out of the soil when the surface is hard.

  • Install double-disk openers. They'll do a better job of placing seed in the soil. Remember that every planter part on the soil surface has to slice through residue while rolling in order to not accumulate residue.

Conservation tillage machinery tips

  • Coulters come in several styles: fluted, ripple, bubble, wavy. Off-set double-disk openers can also function like a coulter. Get to know which coulter works best for your soil conditions. When setting coulters, remember: the dryer the soil, the more shallow the setting should be.

  • Spring-loaded press wheels should follow double-disk openers and ensure good seed/soil contact. Adjust springs and pressure settings for field conditions, which vary according to soil type, soil moisture and residue.

  • Residue managers push residue to either side of the row in front of the planter, making seed placement more precise. Ideally, a coulter runs right behind the residue manager, loosening soil.

Proper conservation tillage planting techniques

  • Seed at a rate in the high end of the yield range you want.

  • Don't plant too deep. Seeding depth should be uniform.

  • Plant corn when soil temperatures reach 50 degrees F to 55 degrees F. Plant cotton after soil temperature reaches 65 degrees F to 67 degrees F for 3 continuous days, and warm, dry weather is expected for the next 3 days.

  • Maintain planting speed at 5 to 6 miles per hour. If planter or drills bounce excessively, slow down.

  • If it's too wet to disk, it's too wet to plant with conservation tillage.