If you attend a Farm Service Agency meeting, you may find yourself plugging numbers into a spreadsheet to determine whether or not to update your yields on commodity base acreage. Congratulations if you figure out that bit of confusion without reaching for the aspirin bottle.

But don't take off your thinking cap yet. Instead, turn your attention to the new Conservation Security Program (CSP) that's still being finalized. With a total of $17 billion earmarked for conservation incentives though 2007, you could become one of the farmers who gets a bonus for operating with resource conservation in mind.

Start early

CSP offers alternate strategies to complement the existing Environmental Quality Incentives Program and set-aside Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Although the exact rules for CSP are not yet available, the proposed program would offer financial incentives to producers for adopting and/or maintaining a wide range of management, vegetative and land-based structural practices that address one or more “resources of concern.” These resources include soil, water, air and wildlife habitat. Contracts are expected to be for five to 10 years, with maximum payments of up to $45,000 annually. But even with $17 billion to draw from, not everyone who applies is going to qualify.

As farmers turn their attention to conservation funding, Dan Towery, a natural resources specialist with the Conservation Technology Information Center, says he expects that there will be more applications filed than dollars to give. But you'll increase your chances of success by starting a dialog early with your local soil conservation office. Each state has somewhat different rules. And some states give counties further administrative discretion.

“First, talk with your local Natural Resources Conservation Service and conservation district planner about the program as it applies to your district,” Towery says. “Then explain what you'd like to do on your farm. Together you can agree on a plan and specific conservation systems that work for you and your district. Addressing more than one resource with your plan may boost your payment.”

High on the list of acceptable programs will be systems and practices such as contour buffers, terraces, waterways, strip-till/no-till, cover crops/grazing management, nutrient management plans and use of Roundup Ready crops that encourage no-till. Your district may wish to place more emphasis on some practices and systems than others. Look at all the options to find the best program for you.

For something like a grass waterway, you may get a better contract by going with the existing CRP. The new CSP shows the greatest potential where farmers want to keep land in production while still addressing resource conservation. Among other things, it appears that CSP will be an excellent incentive for promoting conservation tillage and soil nutrient management.

Tillage incentives

While cautiously optimistic, implement manufacturers are hoping the new CSP incentives will add momentum to the adoption of tools such as deep rippers, strip tillage tools and other implements that condition the soil or prepare a seedbed while leaving surface residue intact.

Towery explains that, although no dollars are allocated specifically for equipment, the government payments may help you justify certain equipment purchases if the equipment will help achieve the obligations of your contract. So think in terms of conservation and acres first, then look at the iron you'll need to conserve soil and boost yield.

Keith Whitaker, tillage product manager for Case IH, isn't willing to speculate on how the final language on CSP will read, but he does think the program could provide an extra incentive for farmers who are interested in buying in-line rippers that break up deep compaction without disturbing the surface. “While I'm not at liberty to say exactly what our plans are, I do think the impact of CSP will influence how we develop tillage products in the future,” Whitaker says. “And it's certainly possible that CSP, combined with new GPS technology, could be the catalyst that helps strip tillage become a more common practice.”

Strip it

Some farmers have been doing strip tillage for years, but the practice hasn't caught on big yet. Along with being uncertain about changing traditional tillage practices, many farmers find it difficult to drive a tractor over the same strip of soil twice. Now that limitation is slowly going away as GPS technology becomes more widespread.

Strip-till becomes practical when you can drive the same line every time you go across the field. Then you can get the benefits of tillage and reduced fertilizer and chemical use, and still maintain significant surface residue for soil conservation.

Conceivably, CSP might provide added financial incentives for farmers to invest in a strip-tillage implement and a GPS guidance system, for example. One of the new autosteer systems might also fit well with strip tillage. We shouldn't be surprised to see more companies coming out with new strip-till implements in the near future. In the meantime, it might be worthwhile to take a quick look at some of the existing tools that could help attain specific conservation and yield objectives. Following are just a few.

DMI 5310

Cary Sizelove, crop production specialist for DMI fertilizer products, suggests that farmers without a yield-limiting compaction problem may be interested in the company's DMI Nutri-till'r 5310.

Farm Industry News first covered this implement in November 2001. Since then, DMI has continued to promote it with claims that strip-till shows an income-per-acre advantage of $23.20/acre over no-till.

The 5310 cuts through residue without burying it and raises the soil into a berm. Berm conditioner baskets reduce clods to further develop a seedbed that warms faster for earlier planting and greater yield potential. A strip-till knife can place dry, liquid or NH3 fertilizer, or can be used for tillage. You can use the implement with or without GPS, too. Optional side-mount row markers can index the strip rows for planting. Starting price for the 5310 is $31,000. For more information, contact Case Corp., Box 65, Goodfield, IL 61742, 309/965-2233, visit www.dmifarm.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 226.

Rip it

“We've seen an increase in farmers' use of in-line rippers,” Case's Whitaker says. “Our Ecolo-til 2500 used in soybean fields is one way to address soil compaction problems and improve subsurface soil tilth with very little disturbance of surface residue.

“This tillage tool allows farmers to economically achieve an optimum soil environment while complying with residue retention guidelines set by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Now with the continuing adoption of GPS guidance systems, our Case IH 2500 Rip Strip is a tillage implement that could see added interest with this year's farm program. The tool is a good fit for farmers who wish to adopt strip-till practices but need to manage compaction.”

Farm Industry News first covered this tillage tool in January 2002. It provides the benefits of deep tillage and no-till, fracturing compaction while building and conditioning a strip that settles ready for planting.

The 2500 addresses common no-till problems — such as slow seed germination due to cool, wet seedbeds or poor seed-to-soil contact — with a four-step system. Coulters manage residue; low-disturbance shanks with patented points improve tilth; soil-gathering disc blades elevate the bed; and a soil-conditioning system reduces clods to provide a uniform seedbed. Price ranges from $12,800 to $27,500. For more information, contact Case IH, 700 State St., Racine, WI 53504, 262/636-5678, visit www.caseih.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 227.

Redball strip-till

Redball is introducing its own line of strip-till equipment. Redball President Steve Claussen says his company moved into the new category in response to research that points to measurable yield and cost-of-production advantages over conventional tillage and strict no-till programs.

“For strip-till to take off, farmers need equipment that produces a uniform, accurately fertilized seedbed with the same reliability in equipment that they are used to with more conventional systems,” Claussen says. “Our equipment will address those needs.”

Redball strip-till row units are mounted on parallel linkages so that individual units hug field contours. The company claims this results in a uniform seedbed and provides fertilizer placement that is more precise than is possible with rigid systems with gauge wheels for the full toolbar. Because row units can adjust to terrain, they don't have to be set deeper than necessary. That should reduce horsepower requirements over certain types of terrain.

Row units are configured with 22-in. coulters in front to slice through field residue and reduce plugging potential. They are followed by a row cleaner, a tillage/fertilizer knife, and two independently floating, 18-in. berm-building discs.

Several row-unit options are available, including adjustable down-pressure springs. Row units may be attached to any 7- × 7-in. toolbar or to one of the new Redball strip-till toolbars, including 3-pt. and pull-type straight bars up to 22 ft. wide, vertical-fold 3-pt. bars up to 30 ft. wide, and front-fold pull-type bars up to 44 ft. wide. A new Redball 1660 air fertilizer cart is available in 6- or 8-ton capacity. It uses a Raven speed-compensated controller to assure accuracy. The cart chassis is available with a fixed or adjustable axle.

Estimated price per strip-till row unit is $1,200 to $1,600, depending on options. Price of a 2000 series toolbar ranges from $14,000 to $16,000. Price of the 1660 6-ton air fertilizer cart starts at $17,000. For more information, contact Redball LLC, Box 159, Benson, MN 56215, 877/332-2551, visit www.redballproducts.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 228.

McFarlane Reel Till

Introduced at last year's National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville, KY, the McFarlane Reel Till grabbed the attention of many farmers interested in spending less time on their conservation tillage acres. Like four tools in one, the Reel Till has a coulter for soil and residue cutting, a spiral reel for stalk chopping, a five-bar flexible spike tooth harrow for breaking up soil and mixing residue, and a leveling board for smoothing the surface and feathering out residue.

Stan McFarlane says customers like that the implement can turn hard, packed stalk stubble into a perfect seedbed in one pass while not burying residue.

The Reel Till uses a heavy-duty, 7-in. toolbar for strength and stability. The single row of hardened steel spiral reels is mounted directly behind the coulters. Heavy-duty support arms have five rows of flexible spike tooth harrows and the leveling bar. Units feature a massive hinge and hydraulics for easy transport folding. Prices range from $17,200 for the 12-ft. 8-in. model to $37,800 for the 30-ft. model. For more information, contact McFarlane's Inc., Box 100, Sauk City, WI 53583, 800/627-8569, visit www.mcfarlanesonline.com or www.freeproductinfo.net/fin, or circle 229.