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Take a Systems Approach to No-Till Soil Health

North Carolina no-tiller Russell Hedrick uses methodical soil testing to improve soil health and reduce inputs.

Years of on-farm experimentation have paid off for Russell Hedrick, a first-generation farmer in Hickory, N.C. Thanks to his systematic soil testing and willingness to experiment, he saved himself more than $100,000 on inputs in 2021. 

“Every year, we try new things on our farm,” Hedrick says. “We want to farm regeneratively, cut back on inputs and build the ground, but at the same time, we also need it to yield to the point where we’re making a decent income.” 

Hedrick, who’s become known for his innovative approach to no-till, first took the plunge into row crops in 2012 with 30 acres. From there, he began challenging conventional farming practices in a quest to improve his soils and his farmland. 

“A lot of people tell me about how their granddad or dad farmed, and sometimes there’s social pressure within a family not to change,” Hedrick says. “I’ve never had anything to reference. That’s one thing I’ve enjoyed about farming.”

NO-TILL TAKEAWAYS

  • Deeper soil tests provide better insights about what crops need. Hedrick tests at 0-6 inches, 6-12 inches and 12-18 inches. All depths are within the root zone and allow him to take a credit on nutrients located deeper in the soil profile.
  • Take stalk nitrate samples at the end of the year to determine if you’ve overapplied or underapplied nitrogen. Hedrick tries to take the sample within a 2-week period after black layer.
  • Leave a check strip as a control on fields where you’re trying something new so you…
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Michaela paukner

Michaela Paukner

Michaela Paukner is the associate editor of Strip-Till Farmer and Precision Farming Dealer. Her previous journalism experience includes working as a reporter for a legal magazine and as a producer for two Wisconsin TV news stations. She has also worked with clients across the globe as a freelance writer and marketing consultant, and as a brand manager for a Wisconsin-based boutique marketing agency. She's a graduate of UW-Green Bay.

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