The past two growing seasons Penn State Extension in Lancaster County and the Lancaster County Conservation District have worked with local growers to design, construct and fine-tune a new no-till transplanter for use in tobacco, pumpkins and vegetables.
Since its introduction in 2015, the planter has had widespread use and good success, especially in transplanting no-till tobacco.
The first two seasons, more than 35 farmers tried their hands at no-till transplanting with the new machine. In fact, the machine has been so successful that Joe’s Machine Shop now commercially produces additional units in Lancaster County.
To date, six units have been built, which many of their owners are willing to rent to help others give no-till transplanting a try.
No-tilling has many advantages, but it is not something a farmer goes into without any forethought. Fields should have a good cover, either from crop residues or a healthy cover crop to protect the soil and prevent erosion.
Also, fields that have good fertility, a history of adding organic matter through green or animal manures, and good soil tilth will often do quite well when no-tilled.
Modest amounts of fall applied manure will build soil fertility for the tobacco and cause vigorous cover crop growth. Cover crops should be killed several weeks before planting to create a mat protecting the soil and aiding in weed control.
One of the biggest challenges in no-till vegetables and tobacco is weed control. A complete herbicide program will be needed to replace the multiple cultivations these crops often receive.
Herbicides labeled for no-till use in tobacco include Command, Spartan, Devrinol and Prowl. All of these require rainfall for activation. Whenever possible apply them when rain is in the seven-day forecast.
The Penn State transplanter will be available at no cost to farmers wanting to try no-till tobacco and other plug grown crops such as pumpkins and vegetables on a few trial acres.
Does no-till tobacco have a future? Farmers who are good managers and pay attention to detail are showing that no-till tobacco produces a high quality, clean crop with excellent yields, while maintaining the health of the soil.
For more information or to get on the list to use the transplanter, contact Dennis Eby of the Lancaster Conservation District at 717-951-9417 or Jeff Graybill of the Lancaster Extension office at 717-394-6851.