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Agronomic Services — News Release

FRIDAY, AUG. 10, 2001

Contact: Robin Watson
Regional agronomist, Agronomic Division
(336) 570-6850

Orange County family shifts from dairy to no-till farming

EFLAND — When W. B. Shambley and his son Morris closed their dairy in Efland last year, they were not thinking about retirement—even though they had been farming for 57 and 33 years, respectively. They were ready to focus their energy on a new venture—no-till farming.

In the early 1990s, the Shambleys had heard intriguing reports about no-till, a farming method that involves growing crops with little or no plowing. Because the ground is not repeatedly disturbed, no-till helps lower production costs, increase soil moisture, reduce erosion and increase yields.

By 1992, the Shambleys decided that there had been enough improvements in no-till equipment and technology that they should give it a try. They started with 10 to 15 acres of corn and experimented with a variety of cover crops including wheat, and annual and perennial rye. Although things got off to a slow start, by the end of the season, results were impressive.

“In a good year, where there’s adequate moisture, conventional tillage can beat no-till,” said the younger Shambley, “but as a rule, seasons tend to be dry and when that occurs, no-till beats conventional. That’s what happened our very first year.”

Normally with no-till, a spring crop is planted into the stubble of the preceding fall crop, and the plant debris covering the ground keeps moisture in the soil so the spring seedlings can thrive. In 1992, the Shambleys’ annual rye cover crop got so tall that it fell over onto the ground. They could not harvest the rye and had trouble planting corn into it.

At first, the Shambleys were disappointed. They had expected better than a 60-percent stand of corn. Then the weather turned dry. By the end of the season, they had produced more corn than any of their neighbors.

“Each year since then we’ve found more good reasons to use no-till instead of conventional tillage,” Morris Shambley said, “but it’s not an easy process. No-till doesn’t leave much room for error.”

To avoid problems, the Shambleys rely on their years of experience and back it up with expert advice—usually from Robin Watson, a regional agronomist with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The Shambleys have consulted with Watson since 1989, and he has helped them cope with some of the unknowns involved in no-till.

“Robin knows what’s proven,” Morris Shambley said. “He’s taught us a lot about being efficient farmers.”

Watson has shown the Shambleys how to manage no-till crops by precise fertilization. Knowing how to check wheat growth to decide whether the crop needs more nitrogen, how to use soil testing and tissue analysis to monitor crop needs and how to use starter fertilizer judiciously are valuable skills for anyone growing no-till crops.

“If we have a problem in our crops, we want to know it real quick and correct it,” Morris Shambley said. “Robin has given us the know-how to do that.”

Today, the Shambleys grow 250 to 275 acres of no-till soybeans, more than 100 acres of no-till corn, and about 85 acres of no-till wheat. In addition, they have 15 acres of alfalfa, 25 acres of forage grass, and more than 100 acres of pasture. Their fields are scattered over two counties and involve several different soil types.

During the past five years, soybean yields in Orange County have averaged 28 bushels per acre, but the Shambleys’ early and late planted no-till beans have produced corresponding averages of 38 to 60 bushels. While a typical corn yield is about 76 bushels per acre, the Shambleys count on farm averages of 95 to 125 bushels. County wheat yields average 42 bushels per acre, while the Shambleys usually reap averages anywhere from the high 50's to 70 plus bushels.

Watson can help other growers protect their investments and improve production. He is available to visit or consult with any grower in Alamance, Caswell, Chatham, Durham, Granville or Person counties who needs help taking agronomic samples, adjusting fertilizer programs, pinpointing nutrient deficiencies or toxicities, identifying nematode problems, or interpreting agronomic reports. He can be reached at (336) 570-6850 or by e-mail at


Last Update August 1, 2007


NCDA&CS Agronomic Services Division, Colleen M. Hudak-Wise, Ph.D., Director
Mailing Address: 1040 Mail Service Center, Raleigh NC 27699-1040
Physical Address: 4300 Reedy Creek Road, Raleigh NC 27607-6465
Phone: (919) 733-2655; FAX: (919) 733-2837

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