No-Till Shows Promise in Montana Nitrogen Trials

Published online: Feb 13, 2019 News Anna Dragseth
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Source: RoundupWeb

Since 2016, Chengci Chen, superintendent and cropping systems agronomist at the Montana State University Eastern Agricultural Research Center, has been working on sugarbeet response to tillage and a nitrogen management project.

Some examples of the projects he has conducted are sugarbeet variety trials to select adaptable varieties with high yield and sucrose concentrations, tillage study to compare conventional tillage to no-till, and a nitrogen and irrigation study to optimize irrigation and nitrogen management for high yield and sucrose concentration.

So far through his research, Chen said, "I have found that no-till sugarbeets produced similar yield and sugar content compared to conventional tillage. However, no-till sugarbeets use less labor and machine hours in tillage."

Soil health is essential to the sustainability of the farming and sugarbeet industry, and tillage has many negative impacts on soil quality, so Chen explained his main goal through his research project is to adopt no-till practices to reduce soil erosion by wind and water, and restore soil health. Chen said, "We were able to successfully plant sugarbeet seed directly into wheat stubble without tillage, and established, managed, and harvested the sugarbeets."

Sugarbeets in the conventional tilled and no-till plots prior to harvest.

"No-till produces similar beet yield and sugar content compared with conventional tillage, but no-till use less labor and machine hours. No-till reduces soil erosion by wind and water and can improve soil health in the long run. We also found higher input of nitrogen reduced sugar content of the beat and increased the impurity of the sugar extract. Excess application of nitrogen fertilizer reduced the nitrogen use efficiency," explained Chen.

This year Chen will be conducting several field studies to figure out how he can improve sucrose concentrations on sugarbeets. "Hopefully, some of the products and management strategies we are testing will be effective and can be used by sugarbeet growers to improve yield and sucrose concentration," said Chen.

"We would like to optimize the management strategies to produce optimum yield and sucrose concentration with fewer input costs," explained Chen.