No-Till Legend Dave Brandt died unexpectedly May 20 as a result of injuries from a severe vehicle crash. The Carroll, Ohio, no-tiller is remembered for the enormous impact he had on the no-till, cover crop and regenerative farming community and beyond.
"David’s stature loomed large, but what he accomplished is what made him a giant in the soil health and regenerative farming movement," reads a statement from Understanding Ag, a regenerative agricultural consulting company that Brandt helped found in 2018. "He had a positive impact in the lives of many, and was a sincere and faithful steward of the land God blessed him with, transforming it from a degraded resource into an ecological wonder. He truly transformed dirt into soil. He changed people’s minds. His ability to entertain while educating was unparalleled, making people laugh even while questioning the way they farmed. He was truly a joy to listen to."
Brandt began farming in 1971 and imported the first known no-till drill into the U.S. in 1975 — a Moore seeder from Ireland. In 1978, he started running a 1,150-acre corn, soybean and wheat operation. Ever since then, he was a huge booster of the tremendous value of cover crops in improving soil health and the value of multi-species cover crop mixes.
"When I planted my first cover crop — cereal rye — in 1978 to control erosion on poorly drained, hilly clay soils, I had no idea what the full ramifications of that decision would be," Brandt said in an article reflecting on what was then 30 years of using covers. "Since then, cover crops have become the anchor of a diverse crop rotation in our continuous no-till system."
"Early on, he had a White planter, and he would get blank seed plates and he would drill the holes in them for the exact seeds that he was planting his cover crop mixtures," says No-Till Farmer editor Frank Lessiter in a 2022 interview about Brandt's no-till legacy. "He's big on mixtures. He'll have a half dozen or more different species of cover crops that he puts out in one mixture."
According to Sustainable Research and Education (SARE), Brandt participated in yield plots for corn, soybeans and wheat into various cover crop mixes, and university researchers, seed growers and county agents used information from his plots to encourage other farmers to adopt no-till. In 2018, Brandt, North Dakota no-tiller Gabe Brown, soil health expert Ray Archuleta and grazing consultant Allen Williams formed Soil Health Academy and Understanding Ag, meant to help farmers reduce input costs and increase profits.
"He made his corner of the world a better place and enabled others to change theirs," says the statement from Understanding Ag. "When the agriculture 'experts' and university professors told him, 'It can’t be done,' David said, 'Watch me,' and proceeded to change the world for the better — teaching us that by using nature’s tools, we can regenerate our living and life-giving soil and breathe new life into our family farms and rural communities."
Brandt received numerous awards for his conservation practices, including the Ohio Conservation Educator Award from the Ohio No-Till Council, Ohio State University South Center's Supporter of the Year, Ohio Agriculture's Man of the Year, the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award and Ohio NRCS Soil Conservationist Partnership and State Volunteer Awards. In 2008, No-Till Farmer recognized Brandt in its first class of Responsible Nutrient Management Practitioners for his use of cover crops to reduce inputs, and Brandt also received the No-Till Innovator Award for crop production in 2015.
Brandt spoke to farmers at countless events across the U.S., including many National No-Tillage Conferences, always sharing a wealth of practical and low-input cost ideas used on his own farm to increase no-till profitability. Numerous no-tillers, cover croppers and industry experts looked to Brandt as a mentor and innovator. In recent years, Brandt had been focusing on producing high nutrient-density crops that could be used as medicine in the future.
"When we started looking at micronutrients and mineralization of a plant, I couldn't believe how much difference there is between A, B and C," Brandt told No-Till Farmer in February. "I just expected a corn plant to always have the same, but they don't. So we're looking at that on our farm, and we're trying to do that research to feed the health care industry to understand if maybe they have a patient that needs something, we could find this variety of corn, wheat or soybean that they could utilize. I think that's going to be part of the future."
A visitation for family and friends is scheduled for June 2 in Winchester, Ohio. A celebration of life for friends, colleagues, farmers and others will be held June 3 from 1-6 p.m. at Brandt's home. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations made in his name to the David Brandt Legacy Award/Memorial C/O No-Till on the Plains, 672 Avenue L, Protection, KS 67127. Donations may also be made to the Soil Health Academy, 209 South Oak Ridge Drive, Enterprise, AL 36330, St. Judes or Gideons International. The No-Till Farmer editors invite the no-till community to leave memories about Brandt and his legacy in the comments below.
Past National No-Tillage Conference presentations, along with No-Till Farmer articles and podcasts featuring Brandt are listed below. This list from Cover Crop Strategies has more cover crop specific content featuring Brandt's expertise.