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A NEW HOPE. A triticale cover crop sprouts amid residue on Gary Greenlee’s farm in Caledonia, Ill. He’s tried multiple times to establish covers with limited success, but he’s hopeful this year will be better.

Photo Brian O’Connor

No-Tiller Saves Time & Soil on Farms 1,800 Miles Apart

Farmer tries no-till, strip-till, cover crops, biologicals & more to improve yields & soil health on his geographically diverse operation.

The soil health goals Gary Greenlee has for his farms are the same, despite the drastic 1,800-mile distance between them. The long-time no-tiller and strip-tiller farms about 200 acres of silt loam in Illinois, as well as about 1,000 acres of good soil in Idaho.

For both operations, he serves as operator, overseeing data, decision-making and the agribusiness professionals he works with. Greenlee grew up on a dairy and hog farm near his ground in Illinois. The farm where he currently lives was purchased by his grandfather in the 1950s, and he and his wife, Jane, purchased it in 1991. He decided to try no-till around 1986 when he was in his 30s.  

“No-till really came about for a few reasons,” he says. “Jane worked full time as a nurse manager at a local hospital. We had three active sons, and I had 2 jobs. I worked for my father-in-law, which was 55-60 hours per week, and I farmed 375 acres.”

In addition to needing to save time, Greenlee also was looking for a solution to the erosion he noticed as the farm transitioned from moldboard plowing to chisel plowing.

 “No-till made sense for saving time and soil,” Greenlee says. “I decided that when I turned over the ground eventually to someone else, it would be in better shape than when I started. That and the time savings. How do you make all this easier when you’re 30?”

About a decade later, Greenlee was on a hunting trip in Idaho…

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Brian o connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the former Lead Content Editor for Conservation Agriculture in November 2021. He previously worked in daily print journalism for more than a decade in places as far flung as Alaska and the U.S. Virgin Islands, where he shared a national award for coverage of two Category 5 hurricanes that struck the islands in 2017. He's also taught English in Korea, delivered packages for Amazon, and coordinated Wisconsin election night coverage for the Associated Press. His first job was on a Southeast Wisconsin farm.

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