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Soil erosion in Tanzania

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May 2017 Newsletter

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July 2016 Newsletter

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Annual General Meeting of the No-Till Club

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How the dust storms disappeared in the Karkloof

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Mulch requirements for erosion control

Please read full article here...


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Interesting reading from the Internet

Sometimes you find or someone points out an interesting article to read on the Internet and I encourage you to click onto these links below and find encouragement.

Read more: Interesting reading from the Internet

The ABCs of no-till

The 2013 No-Till Conservation Agriculture Conference, held from 3 to 5 September at the ATKV Drakensville resort, is over and was once again a great success. The event focused on making farmers and agricultural advisors more aware of the positive effects that no-till conservation agriculture has on the environment, soil health, sustainable agriculture and food security.


Read full article here...

2013 No-Till Club KZN Conference Report

Under the banner of ‘No-Till is Conservation Agriculture in Action’ the Club’s 14th annual AGM and conference was held for the 6th time at the Drakensville Resort near Bergville in KwaZulu-Natal from 3rd to 5th of September. This well-organised, ever-popular and much looked forward to event was attended by 205 delegates from many of the provinces in South Africa including some from Zimbabwe and Mozambique. In addition, no less than 15 exhibitors showcased their products and services of which the farm equipment on display was estimated at a value of R38 million.


The needs of the large number of those attending was well catered for by the Resort in respect of the large parking and machinery exhibition areas they had developed for last year’s conference and improvements to the event hall for last and this year’s event. To allow delegates to view machinery and interact more closely with machinery representatives, finger lunches were held in a tent located in the centre of the machinery exhibition area instead of as previously on the veranda of the hall.


As over the last three years, the event was fully video recorded and comprehensive packages of same covering the 2011. 2012 and this year’s 2013 event can be obtained at a cost of R250 each for local destinations, plus R150 for international destinations, from Softlight Media by emailing them at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



As has been done over last three years, day one commenced at 10h00 with a conducted tour of committee member Egon Zunckel’s nearby farm Rustenberg on which he has been practicing no-till for 17 years, to view and learn about the on-going benefits of no-till, the crop rotation system adopted and cover crops planted – in short, a Conservation Agriculture (CA) system in action. As Egon had introduced cattle this past season for the production of weaners into his system in order to more fully utilise his crop residue, long-standing no-till and livestock farmer Bruce Shepherd of Bergville then gave those attending benefit of his experiences as to how he successfully integrates the two practices.


Delegates then departed for the Drakensville Resort for registration and viewing of the exhibitions on display and the twelve cover crops growing in the demonstration plot adjacent to the machinery displays. Each of the delegates received a goodie bag containing a CA/No-Till informative conference folder with similar informative inserts , a July copy of the Club’s newsletter containing all the information about, and an agenda of, the September 2013 AGM and conference, a copy of Grain SA’s growth strategy up to 2016  and a precision planting CD.


At 18h30 delegates met in the hall to enjoy an informal braai at which they had an opportunity to mingle, renew and make new acquaintances and share experiences.   




The morning session of day two commenced with a welcome and Chairman’s report-back on the Club’s activities over the preceding year by Callie van der Linde at an open meeting. This was followed by presentations by: KwaZulu-Natal no-till pioneer and Club stalwart Anthony Muirhead on Why I started No-Till; Andrew Bennett, technology development lead: Africa, of Monsanto on Precision corn – the American way; no-till practicing farmers Egon Zunckel of Bergville, north-west KwaZulu-Natal (dryland and irrigation), Ralf Küsel of Paulpietersburg, far northern KwaZulu-Natal (dryland) and George Steyn of Ottosdal, North West (sandy dryland) all addressing How and why I adopted no-till; Dr. Hendrik Smith. CA facilitator of Grain SA, on Grain SA: Looking at Conservation Agriculture, and; Ernst Janovsky, head of ABSA AgriBusiness centre of excellence, on The effect of the macro economy on agriculture – threats and opportunities.


As per the conference programme, the afternoon session commenced with machinery representatives giving PowerPoint presentations on the machinery that they were to have demonstrated on MP Badenhorst’s adjoining farm immediately thereafter. However, as the machinery exhibitors expressed a reluctance to conduct the demonstrations out of concern of potential damage to their equipment, notably to tyres, due to the soil being extremely hard, the organisers agreed to cancel this event and extended the period for presentations. It was indeed ironical that last year’s demonstrations were also cancelled, but for reasons of incessant rain.


At 19h00 a cocktail hour was held during which Johann du Plessis, coordinator of Super Soya Yield Competition launched at last year’s conference, gave a report-back on progress to date and announced the winners of last season’s competition. This was followed at 20h00 by guest speaker Dr. Tonie Putter giving an insightful address on How come King Solomon was so smart after which delegates enjoyed a sumptuous dinner.


Third Day

The third day started with; Pastor August Basson of Growing Nations in Lesotho addressing delegates on Agriculture and faith builds positive self-worth; Bertus Venter, general manger and agronomist of ZZ2,  on Practicing Natuurboerdery at ZZ2 and Prof. Erik Holm retired professor of entomology, founding member of Natuurboerdery and ZZ2 executive committee member on Business systems and sustainable agriculture at ZZ2; Dr. Suzette Bezuidenhout of the plant protection unit of the KwaZulu-Natal Dept. of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs at Cedara on The use of allelopathy in controlling weeds; Victor Mahlinza past chairman of the of the Umtshezi district farmer’s association and crop and vegetable farmer at Ntabamhlope near Estcourt in KwaZulu-Natal on How I adopted no-till, and; Guy Thibaud, soil scientist with the KwaZulu-Natal Dept. of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs at Cedara and Dr. Hendrik Smith, CA Facilitator of Grain SA, on What visiting overseas scientific speakers have imparted at conferences over last four years


The conference closed with a panel discussion where delegates had an opportunity to pose questions to speakers and other experts present.


First public display of Haraka planter

The Haraka manually operated no-till rotary punch planter for women made its debut at the conference amongst an array of other smallholder and commercial farming no-till equipment on display. The Haraka planter came about by KEL Growing Nations Trust (Growing Nations) being a Grand Challenge Explorations winner, an initiative funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to conduct an agricultural development project. Developed by Rev. August Basson, founder of Growing Nations, in collaboration with Adrian Jacobs, an agricultural engineering consultant, the planter is designed to plant maize and other crops, be user friendly, inexpensive, fast working and women friendly, both physically and culturally.


The Haraka planter complies with Conservation Agricultural (CA) principles, which Growing Nations believe are key to the development of sustainable agriculture in Southern Africa. Initial testing will be carried out on the Growing Nations demonstration farm at Maphutseng, Lesotho and in a variety of locations across Southern Africa to assess its suitability for use in different soil and climatic conditions.


For further information please contact:- notillclub.co.za


Rev. August Basson walking besides the Haraka planter being operated by Adriaan Jacobs.


Story of the Burned Mulch

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Can uncharacteristicly wet seasons have an impact on no-till fields?


Can uncharacteristicly wet seasons have an impact on no-till fields?

By Egon Zunckel


I was uncharacteristically quiet at last year’s conference partly because we had a runaway fire on 150 ha of no-till fields and partly because of what I will attempt to explain in this article.

For years I had been crowing about the fact that I had had no problems with No-till with regard to diseases especially. Read this all the way through as I will conclude that the problem is not as simple as blaming No-till.

At the start of the 2009/2010 season I started planting my maize earlier than usual because of increased hectares to plant without increased planter capacity. We started planting in mid October when it was noticeably cool but we pushed on regardless as we needed to” keep the run rate up”. The maize took about 10 days to emerge and when it did it looked bleak. After a topdressing of Urea, these early planted fields looked ok and we thought that all was fine.

At harvest time we were shocked at the amount of lodged plants as well as poor yield in these early planted fields. The yield improved relative to the planting date with the mid November plantings yielding fairly well.

The first centre pivot field yielded 7 tons/ha with the dry-land corners yielding 8.5 tons/ha, all planted on the same day and same cultivar but reduced plant population and fertilizer. The irrigated maize was planted with 160 N : 40 P : 40 K. Some of our top yields over the previous 2 seasons were achieved with this level of Nitrogen. I heard that all the low N plots in the ARC trials planted at Ant Muirhead’s farm that season also lodged and that the high N plots stood well in spite of similar nematode counts. My soil analysis showed the N as depleted, P and K being acceptable.

Crops on my irrigated fields were rotated as follows: 2 years maize, 1 year soya with winter wheat following the soya and back to maize after the wheat. This rotation has worked well for years with our best maize yields being achieved after wheat.

I am grateful to so many people who rallied around to try and find answers to this problem and here is my summary of what was reported:

With the cooler temperatures at planting and subsequent slow emergence, nematodes took advantage of the situation and penetrated the roots allowing fusarium to enter through the lesions. It is easier for disease to attack a stressed plant. The ultimate cause of the lodging and poor yields was fusarium root rot.

My own observation of the problem is as follows: Cool temperatures at planting and subsequent slow emergence; 2 years of maize residue with traces of wheat residue from 2 years back, allowing a build-up of innoculum in these conditions ; Low N levels; and possibly poor leaf disease control. Numerous trials of root stimulants, tricaderma, bacteria and fungi have proved fruitless, maybe they need time to establish themselves.

I am approaching the problem with caution, Beware “revenge” tillage! I know someone who had every scrap of plant residue burnt off in a fire, tilled, planted an oats cover crop and still had serious lodging in the following maize crop.

I also know of someone who tilled their fields properly this last season and had unbelievable lodging.

On a recent trip to Brazil I discovered that they cover crop most, if not all of their millions of hectares to millet or crotalaria, one of the main reasons being to combat nematodes!

There is talk of possible residual glyphosate build-up in the soil, adding to our problems but I will not open that can of worms now!

I am trying cover crops as a solution to my problem having learnt a lot about their beneficial effect on crops. For 2 seasons we have noticed an improvement in maize and soya yields and health following cabbages.

Last year we planted a strip of canola into maize residue and found an improvement of 300kg/ha in the soya yield this year.

I invite readers to attend our conference this year where the focus will be on ley crops. There will be a visit to my farm to view and discuss cover crops of oats, rye and canola.

God Bless

Egon Zunckel

What Happened?


What Happened?


I used to have problems like: run-off; capping; poor aeration; poor infiltration; erosion; low organic carbon; low microbial and earthworm activity; high fuel bills; high maintenance, labour and machinery costs; time pressure; dirty dams; dust storms and the like. Must I carry on?

What happened?

After two consecutive years of entering the KZN 10-ton maize club competition, I realized that there was something wrong as the maize following wheat, (stubble mulch tilling) yielded 2 tons more than the neatly worked 10 ton entry.

Drastic measures were needed and I converted to No-Till 100% and have never looked back.

Now I have the opposite of the above (opening paragraph) and instead of spending millions on “kilowatts”, I can afford to buy descent tractors, planters and sprayers.

That’s what happened.

As a believer, I am confident that this is the closest method of crop farming to what God intended at creation.


Egon Zunckel

Vuurhoutjies is Taboe


Vuurhoutjies is Taboe


Na aanleiding van `n swak 2005/6 seisoen wat pryse aanbetref het ons besluit om No-Till te doen vir die seisoen wat voor le^ en inset kostes so laag moontlik te hou. Ek het my John Deere 1750 planter omgeskakel en net ripper tande op gesit.


Dit het in die droe lande uitstekend gewerk en ek kon nie glo hoe maklik dit is nie. Ek het koring op my besproeiingslande gehad, so na ons koring gestroop het moes ek mielies in die koringstoppels plant. Die eerste dag het dit goed gegaan want die toestande was idiaal. Ons het egter die aand `n bui reen gekry en toe begin my moeilikheid. My gemodifiseerde planter het net begin pak in die koringstoppels. Tien tree plant en stop en op tel met `n hoop wat hy saamsleep. Die koring land was presies half pad geplant.


Na ure se gesukkel het ons besluit om die ander helfde van die land te brand. Ek het hom toe gedis, gerip en saadbed gemaak en geplant. My plantestand op altwee stukke was 100%.


Strooptyd het gekom en ons het begin stroop. Ek kon nie glo wat se groot verskil daar op die twee stukke was nie. Waar ek No-Till gedoen het het ek omtrent 9 ton/ha gestroop en daar was geen probleem met graad nie. Waar ek egter die ander helfde gebrand, konvensioneel bewerk het en geplant het was dit egter `n ander storie. Ons het daar 2 ton/ha minder gestroop en gesukkel om graad te kry.


Hierdie proef was vir my `n duidelike voorbeeld van wat die regte metode van bewerking is.


Nico Botha

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What makes up a healthy soil?

·         A healthy soil needs a good structure which will allow better absorption of water and will
retain the moisture absorbed.

·         This will allow for more oxygen to be available for plant roots Stifle the roots and you stifle
the plant.

·         Healthy soils with good structure are able to hold on to plant nutrients more efficiently than
those with poor structure

·         Healthy soils allow for greater effctivily and presence of earth worms which aerate the soil
and these are food for birds and other animals in the food chain. A more balanced nature.


·        TECHNIQUE

·         TIMING

·         PRACTICE




When it rains hard which is what happens especially in tropical and sub tropical climates we as

humans take shelter. When it is extremely hot we seek protection.

How do we do this with soil by using mulch which could be?

• the residue of the previous crop

                                  •     Or planting a cover crop.

This mulch or covering protects the soil from excessive rain velocity causing

• Rain water to hit the soil a high velocity breaking up the soil structure

·         The mass of water gathering in gullies and on open surfaces to become torrents of water
sweeping valuable top soil from the ,area

·         When soil is exposed to the African sun and we plough it up we expose the bacteria and
funguses plus small insects and animals responsible for creating the structure of a healthy
soil. This soil and its allies are exposed to ultraviolet rays causing death to many of the useful
insects etc that breakup crop residue.

NO-TILL requires a new mind set which is more in line with working with nature rather than
dictating to it.

The no-till club is here to facilitate between those who have had success with Conservation
Tillage and those who wish to implement it.

      By Richard Findlay

Grazing no-till residues.


Grazing no-till residues.


Stalks can be an important part of a farms fodder flow, but one must be careful not to look after your cattle in winter at the expense of your following summer crop.


Last years cover is vital for your next crop by improving infiltration and reducing evaporation.  It also stops the ‘exploding’ effect the rain drop has on bare soil thus reducing capping.  Stalks have a ‘damming’ effect, reducing erosion and improving infiltration.  Surface organic matter is vital for biological activity and general soil health.


It is therefore vital not to overgraze your lands.  I allow the cattle to only take the ‘cream’, the loose sluffs and the few whole mealies that have stayed behind.  I use a simple guide to know when to move the cattle on.  When cattle first go into a land, they hardly look at the lick I provide.  After a few days they become marginally interested in it.  As the ‘good stuff’ in the lands starts to finish, they suddenly become very interested in their lick, this is when they must be moved.  If it rains the cattle must be move out of the land, because of compaction.  One must therefore have an alternate source of feed for your cattle in winter.


After a poor crop one must beparticularlycareful, as there is not much residue and a much higher percentage of it palatable to the cattle.  There is always much more cover the day the cattle move out of the land than the day you plant, don’t ask me where it goes to, so rather leave too much than too little.


By Bruce Shepherd

Soil Auger (Beeter)

Soil Auger often called a Beeter for taking

soil samples to be analised









We read about, ozone depletion, global warming, soil erosion, inflation and water is a diminishing resource, scary stuff!


What can us as farmers do about it? There are three routes we can choose to follow to answer that question, each with its own action, its own outcome, the choice is yours.


  1. We can elect to do nothing and stay in what we think is our comfort zone.
  2. We can look at using No-Till to address these problems which it does to a large extent
  3. We can combine No-Till with using cover crops to enhance what we are already doing.


As we are talking to the converted mainly through our new letter we all know the benefits of No-Till but some have not thought of combing it with a cover crop to maybe compound the effects of No-Till.


Coming from the seed industry my interest in cover crops was probably a selfish one to begin with, as it was extra seed that I could sell and therefore enlarge my market share, but as I found out more about cover crops it became evident that this practice could have greater benefits to the farmers themselves than to my inflated seed budget.


To share some of the benefits of cover cropping I am going to use some facts obtained from an American hand book on cover crops called MANAGING COVER CROPS PROFITABLY. Printed by The Sustainable Agriculture Network.




Winter wheatis also a cover crop used by farmers with irrigation following a summer crop of maize and this has financial benefits if grown properly and you obtain a reasonable yield.


My main interest is to encourage those farmers who are dry land maize farmers to look at using a hardy cover crop that would, conserve moisture, control wind erosion and possibly create grazing to market animals off the farm. There is also the possibility of producing seed for some seed company, who often battle to get suitable ground on which to produce good seed on fields that are not contaminated. Examples are cereal crops like stooling rye, triticale, oats and even annual ryegrass.




You cannot help becoming excited with the prospect of trying cover cropping when you have read the build up this book gives you, but like all new concepts and fancy ideas you need to, stop, and se how it fits in with your farming practices and personality before heading into some writers fantancy.


When you looks at what cover crops can possibly do for your farm and ultimately your finances from detail obtained from this book and others as well a personal communication with practicing agriculturalists one must consider the merits carefully.


These are some of the benefits mentioned:


Ø       Cut fertilizer costs by using legumes for nitrogen and root crops that re-cycle P and K. It is mentioned that Grazing Vetch in Maryland from a 3 year study was worth 80kg of Nitrogen per ha.


Ø       Reduce the need for herbicides and pesticides by smothering the weeds and in the case of insects allowing areas for the friendly (the useful ones) insects to over winter. This is used in the fruit industry, they tell me that there are insects that over winter that control many insects that cause damage to the fruit.


Ø       They also improve your soil structure enhancing soil health by in creasing humus and carbon content. Soil with a good structure and humus content also has a filtration effect on herbicides and pesticides that may be still lurking around.


Ø       Limit soil erosion due to the fact that the soil is covered slowing the rate at which the water from a heavy rain storm leaves the field, keeping the soil where it belongs.


Ø       As the rain water is slowed up by the vegetation on the surface of the field you give the water time to sink into the soils and not run off and into the river. The root systems of pervious crops and cover crops that have decayed in the soil that has not been ploughed to also assist the water to penetrate, increasing the moisture retaining characteristics of the soil.


Ø       With water being control on the field and not allowed to run wild gathering all sorts of soil particles in its haste to get into the river. Your surface water will become cleaner and improve in its quality for humans and animals alike.


These benefits should be sufficient to make you want to consider using cover crops around you rotational crops you are growing so let us look at some important questions you need to ask yourself in order to make an intelligent decision.


The following is a list taken from this handbook:


Refer to your timetable chart and ask these questions:


·                     How will I seed the cover crop?

·                     What’s the weather likely to be at that time?

·                     What will soil temperature and moisture conditions be like?

·                     How vigorous will other crops or pests be?

·                     Should the cover crop be low-growing and spreading, or tall and             vigorous?

·                     What weather extremes and field traffic must it tolerate?

·                     Will it winter kill in my area?

·                     Should it winter kill to meet my goals?

·                     What kind of re-growth can I expect?

·                     How do I kill it and then plant into it?

·                     Will I have time to make this work?

·                     What is my contingency plan—and risks—if the crop does not establish or it does not die as scheduled?

·                     Do I have the needed equipment and labour?


This gives you some idea of what is required before jumping into using a cover crop. It will cost you money to plant it and it needs to work for you and create the benefits you have foremost in your mind to improve soils.

Here is some detail I came across in MANAGING COVER CROPS PROFITABLY and have taken the liberty include it here for you to read.


Cover crops can stabilize your soil:


The more you use cover crops, the better your soil tilth, research continues to show. One reasons that cover crops, especially legumes, encourage populations of beneficial fungi and other micro-organisiums that help bind soil aggregates.

The fungi called mycorrhizae, produce a water-insoluble protein known as glomalin which catches and glues together particles of organic matter, plant cells, bacteria and other fungi, recent research suggests. ( Wright. S.F and A Upadhaya 1998 (372)

Glomalin may be one of the most important substances in promoting and stabilizing soil aggregates.

Most plant roots, not just those of cover crops, develop beneficial my-corrhizal relationships. The fungi send out root-like extensions called hyphae, which take up water and soil nutrients to help feed plants. In low-phosphorous soils, for example, the hyphae can increase the amount of phosphorous that plants obtain. In return, the fungi receive energy in the form of sugars that plants produce in their leaves and send down to the roots.

Growing cover crops increases the abundance of mycorrhizal spores. Legumes in particular can contribute to mycorrhizal diversity and abundance, because their roots tend to develop large populations of these beneficial fungi.

By having their own mycorrhizal fungi and by promoting mycorrhizal relationships in subsequent crops, cover crops therefore can play a key role in improving soil tilth. The overall increase in glomalin production also could help explain why cover crops can improve water infiltration into soil and enhance storage of water and soil nutrients, even when there has been no detectable increase in the amount of soil organic matter.

That has given you food for thought which I hope will lead to you pursuing cover crops to feed your soil!


There is a long list of species and cultivars within those species that can be use as cover crops and we will include these in our next edition. Should you want more detail immediately contact the writer through our secretary.




Egon Zunckel was elected as chairman at our committee meeting in October last year and Andrew Lawrens s now vice chairman.



There was a bus full of farmers from the Northern Province who visited Egon’s farm on the 2nd November. Unfortunately it was an extremely wet day, the bus got stuck in the mud and Egon had to clear a space in his workshop to accommodate the 30 plus farmers in the group. The weather was damp and wet but the enthusiasuim of the farmers to here about No-Till was hot. Both Egon and Anthony spoke of their experiences.


By Richard Findlay 



Are earthworms important?  Read more about them here.