The use of conservation tillage, sometimes called no-till farming, has gone up dramatically in the past few years in the planting of many crops. In fact, 80 percent of cotton farmed in Alabama is planted with conservation tillage systems, up from 19 percent only four years ago.

No-till farming provides many economic and environmental benefits to the farmer. Since the soil is not touched from after harvest until the next growing season, there is less erosion. The previous year's crop residue left on the soil surface traps moisture and nutrients, cutting down on chemicals the farmer must use. Conservation tillage also requires less machinery and less labor than conventional tillage.

One problem associated with no-till farming is that the previous year's crop residue can get caught up in planters, forcing the farmer to stop the machine and clear out the debris. But that is about to change. Agricultural Research Service soil scientist H. Allen Torbert of the Soil Dynamics Research Unit in Auburn, Ala., along with local cotton farmer Tom Ingram, has designed a device to put on the planter to keep the operation running smoothly.

Dubbed the "forward residue mover," it is a triangular piece of metal around the blades of the planter that pushes crop residue out of the way, so it will not get caught in the blades. This device makes planting in a no-till environment easier and quicker.

An added benefit of the forward residue mover is that it's free. While Torbert and Ingram are not selling the piece of equipment, it is easy enough for many farmers to make in their machine shops with supplies they may already have.

More information about the residue mover, including photos, along with general information about no-till farming, is available online at:

http://www.ag.auburn.edu/nsdl/sctcsa/docs/proceedings/Torbert.pdf

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.