"I couldn't believe the results. My yields exploded," says Matthews, who began the practice on his farm near Weiner about five years ago. "When we started doing this, we went to 50 bushels and beyond. Over 700 acres, I averaged 54 bushels."
Matthews, 40, didn't go into a no-till soybean production system using early-maturing varieties, thinking he would increase his yields. He was looking to save a week at the end of the growing season, reduce equipment and fuel costs, reduce water use and better position himself for early, no-till rice production the next year.
"We were even thinking we might have to sacrifice soybean yields with conservation tillage,” he says. “But these are the best beans we've ever raised. It happens every time. I was looking for a better way to no-till rice, and I found a better way to grow soybeans."
Matthews' success has caught the attention of Chris Tingle, Extension soybean specialist with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.
With the help of a grant for technology transfer from the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board, the division in 2003 started looking at the successes of farmers such as Matthews with no-till and other technologies to try to use it to help other farmers.
"Scott's an innovative farmer, and we can learn a lot from watching and working with him and other producers," Tingle says.
Matthews enjoys better yields and reduced costs, and he appreciates the shape no-till leaves the ground at the end of the season.
He always thought he had to get his ground absolutely smooth to no-till rice the next year after producing soybeans. "It wasn't uncommon to have $35 to $40 an acre in tillage costs."
But at the end of season with no-till beans, the ground is just as smooth for next year's rice crop as if it had been worked, he notes.
Tingle says about one-third to one-fourth of the state's 2.9 million acres of soybeans are in a conservation tillage program. He's hesitant in advocating "a full blown" conservation tillage effort in Arkansas, because diseases scare him in continuous no-till production. But, he adds, that issue can be addressed through variety selection.
In the technology transfer project, Tingle says Division of Agriculture researchers and specialists will look at the performance of varieties marketed as no-till varieties in no-till production systems.
"There are obvious benefits of the no-till system, and we'll try to match the varieties to the system to maximize production," Tingle says.
In 2004, he'll begin a series of newsletters for producers that deal strictly with conservation tillage issues.
He says the division will look for the best crop rotation to break disease patterns and increase yields.
Matthews is pleased with the Division of Agriculture's interest in conservation tillage.
"I'm excited the University of Arkansas is recognizing the need for conservation tillage and putting more effort into it. It's going to make it easier on me."
Lamar James is a writer for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.