While Lamar started using conservation tillage in 1977 to reduce soil erosion, many unforeseen additional benefits have resulted. Lamar's strip-till system saves many trips over the field compared with conventional tillage systems commonly used in the area. Time, fuel, labor and equipment repair savings have also occurred. When he was using conventional tillage, runoff would occur following the application of only 1/2 inch of irrigation water. After only three years of continuous conservation tillage, Lamar found that he could apply over 1 1/2 inches of water without having any runoff. Runoff from rainfall has also been drastically reduced, thereby increasing the amount of infiltration and soil moisture during the growing season and reducing the need for irrigation. The crop residue on the soil surface also greatly reduces the rate of evaporation. The reduction of runoff and the increase in infiltration is a result of the improvements in soil quality that have occurred on the Tilmanstone Farm.
When Lamar started using conservation tillage, the soils on the farm contained about 0.6% soil organic matter, which is typical for these sandy textured soils of the Southern Coastal Plain. The soil organic matter content in the top 1/2 inch of soil now exceeds 3 percent. Not long ago, increasing the amount of soil organic matter seemed impossible because historically, agricultural research had shown that soil organic matter levels could not be increased in these sandy soils while they are being farmed. All of the research had included tillage in the system. Once tillage is eliminated, long-term conservation tillage will increase the amount of organic matter in the soil.
Lamar disproved the old myth that you could not maintain soil fertility and pH with surface applied fertilizer and lime. Following several years of continuous conservation tillage, he has found that his soil fertility levels are being maintained at high levels and that the soil pH, even to a depth of 3 feet, is higher than when the fields were conventionally tilled. Earthworms are also now being found in the crop fields. None were present when the fields were conventionally tilled. Bobwhite quail population is increasing on the farm too. This is significant because the Georgia bobwhite quail population is decreasing by about 3 percent each year. The presence of crop residue year round on the soil surface is providing food, cover and many other habitat benefits to the bobwhite quail.
Soil tests are taken and followed each year. His pest management program includes scouting by a crop consultant. Lamar attempts to use the latest agricultural technology available. He was one of the first farmers in the southeast United States to use hooded sprayers, paratilling and genetically engineered crops such as Roundup Ready soybeans, Bt cotton, and RR cotton. In 1998, Lamar experimented with eight acres of ultra narrow row cotton. He was very satisfied with the UNR cotton yields and plans to plant more in 1999.
Lamar is experimenting with cahaba white vetch (Vicia sativa X Vicia cordata) followed by cotton. The vetch provides ample amounts of residue that decomposes slower than most legume residue. It also provides additional nitrogen and helps to lessen the root knot nematode problem.