“The main thing we had to learn was patience. If it’s too wet to plant, go fishing or spend time with your family.”
— Scott Davidson, no-tiller, Dalton City, Ill.
For this episode of the No-Till Farmer Influencers & Innovators Podcast, brought to you by Martin-Till, editor Frank Lessiter hosts a panel discussion with six individuals who have attended every National No-Tillage Conference since it began in 1993: Allen Berry, Allan Brooks, R.D. Wolheter, Bryan Van Holten, Randall Reeder and the late Scott Davidson. Davidson passed away in April of 2021 but attended all 29 National No-Tillage Conferences held during his lifetime.
We hope you’ll join these familiar names and hundreds of other no-tillers at the 2024 National No-Tillage Conference Jan. 9-12 in Indianapolis. Click here for more information and to register.
If you are interested in more no-till history, you’ll find great stories like these and many more in the newly released 448-page second edition of From Maverick to Mainstream: A History of No-Till Farming that includes 32 more pages than the first edition. Order your copy here.
The No-Till Influencers & Innovators podcast series is brought to you by Martin Industries.
Our customers believe that Martin-Till®️ products provide an excellent return on their investment. We know this because a large percentage of them are repeat customers since the beginning in 1991. Our planter attachments help make it possible to plant into higher levels of residue and moisture. Higher levels of mulch means less erosion, improved soil tilth and fertility, which can reduce production costs. Martin Till’s goal is to increase yields and save you time and money. We hope you find something from our product offerings of row cleaner, UMO’s, closing wheels systems and recently added concaves that will make this year’s planting & harvesting go better for you. After all, you deserve the best!
Full TranscriptMackane Vogel:
Welcome to the No-Till Farmer Influencers and Innovators Podcast, brought to you by Martin-Till. I'm Mackane Vogel, assistant editor of No-Till Farmer. Today we are revisiting one of our most popular episodes of the show, which features Frank Lessiter as he hosts a panel discussion with six individuals who attended every national No-Tillage conference since it began in 1993: Allen Berry, Alan Brooks, R.D. Wolheter, Brian Van Holten, Randall Reeder, and the late Scott Davidson. Scott passed away in April of 2021, but attended all 29 National No-Tillage Conferences held during his lifetime.Frank Lessiter:
So I'm going to introduce the panelists for you. Allan Brooks, Marcus in Wisconsin, Scott Davidson, Dalton City, Illinois. Allen Berry, Nauvoo, Illinois, R.D. Walder, Wolcott, Indiana. Brian Van Holten... What?R.D. Walder:
[inaudible 00:01:07].Frank Lessiter:
I stand corrected, already... Wolcott. Wouldn't you think, in 25 years, I'd remember where the guy came from? Sorry. Bryan Van Holten, Cole Camp Missouri. I think the first conference he came to, he wasn't of drinking age. I didn't say he didn't drink. And Randall Reeder, who's an ag engineer at Ohio State University and pretends he is Will Rogers. All right. Let's start first. Brian, let's start with you. How'd you get started in no-till? You kind of went cold Turkey, didn't you?Brian Van Holten:
Yeah, I got started in 1992 actually. Came to the conference in 1993 and had just completed my full season of no-till. I was farming about 300 acres at that point, a hundred percent no-till corn soybeans with a small percentage of wheat mixed in and had an off-farm job at that time. By the spring of '96, I'd gotten to just a little under 900 acres and the no-till concept was working out really well for me and I decided that I had enough there to quit my day job and try to make it full-time farming.
And in the summer of 1997, planted my first cover crop of Hairy Vetch and planted corn into that. Had some struggles, stayed very wet after I planted the corn and flat, poorly drained soils that I've got kind of struggled and didn't get the stand I wanted. Tried it again the next year and kind of had the same problem and kind of gave up on corn or planting cover crops in front of corn at that point. In the fall of 2002, tried cover cropping cereal rye after corn stalks and got along well with that. Switched to annual rye grass a few years after that for the deep rooting and got along well, observed that the sheet erosion was tremendously reduced with the no-till, but I still fought gully erosion in the concentrated flow areas and wanted to get cover crops on every acre a hundred percent of the time.
So listening to Gabe Brown and Dave Brandt and several others at this conference talking about more diversity, I decided to head more in that direction. I'm now trying to convert to corn, bean, wheat rotation with a one full one third of each crop and I'll be planting corn and a cover crop of probably cereal rye and maybe a couple other species with that followed by soybeans. That all goes to wheat and then harvest the wheat, spread poultry litter and a diverse cover crop behind that and try to build the soil organic matter up.
I'm anxious to bring some beef cattle into the mix as time goes on. I think that'd be a good fit in my area. I realize that that's probably not something that'll work for a lot of you with your deep rich soils that can already grow very good crops. But for me and my fringe area of the grain belt just on the edge with sandy to soils, I guess my goal is to someday be able to grow the kind of crops that those of you with the better soil does and hopefully get to the point you are now already. And this spring I'll be planting 3,100 acres this coming year.Frank Lessiter:
You just answered my question. I was going to ask how many acres you're going to have this year. What's neat about this panel is that we're going to cover a lot of stuff and then you'll be able to corner them in the halls tonight or tomorrow and get some more ideas out of them. R.D., tell us a little about your operation. What's happened in the last 25 years?R.D. Walder:
I started no-till as a demonstration or trying it in' 81 with corn. We farm in three counties in northeast Indiana. The lake area, recreation area, the soil's very tremendously... Get a size of this room, you could have more two or three soil types in an area. It just changes that quick. But anyway, I tried no-till corn, like I say, in '81. It was a year that we had 25 inches of rain for April, May, and June. The corn was, I would call it a success even though we used a bubble colder, if any of you're familiar with that. It was a few years later I figured out it was referred to as a compaction colder. It was probably more designed for conventional tillage or sandy soil to compact the sidewalls. Fortunately, most of the time, the first couple years it worked. And of course I think the next year, I was probably close to a hundred percent no-till corn.
It's not one of them gradually working into something. You try it. If it works, you kind of jump into it. Soybeans, I think the first time was '84 after the pick year for the younger people. Payment in kind, the older ones here of us, we know what that was. I would call it a disaster. That year we used a 15-foot MARLISS drill where I tried it. We had to go down a paved road, very hilly. Of course, 15 foot sounds good except with the end wheel. It was probably more like 18 foot wide and with not much of a berm. It was too dangerous to take down roads. But the good part out of it was where I had weed control, and in '83 we did not have much in the way of post emerge herbicide for that there. But if I had the weed control, it was great.
And then a couple years later, I tried a Great Plains 10 foot drill in June and the beans were above average. And the following year we kind of jumped into the colder cart with the Great Plains, which was just a conventional drill. [inaudible 00:07:06] in front of it. It was great the first 1500 to 2000 acres. After that, it was a minimum of an hour every day if you're lucky, not two hours for maintenance. And Great Plains was a great company to work with. They'd find the weakest part, they'd work on that. Then you just find the next weakest part, work good, and the next weakest part. And then the 750 drills came out and we actually, I don't know, I've had three or four of those or more. We still have one from back in the nineties sometime. We do some cover crops with it now. If we do any wheat or cereal rye for the to grow for our own seed, we'll use a split 50.Frank Lessiter:
You guys all nervous up here?R.D. Walder:
Perfect. The nervous guys always tell the truth. Alan, tell us a little about your operation. Yours a little different than some of these other guys.Allen Berry:
Yes, they micd me up. So I'm a contract vegetable grower, and so this has been an more of a evolution for me because my father was a professor at the University of Wisconsin and very interested in this. And so 45 years ago, Frank and I and my father met. So we were working on with vegetable production with lower disturbance ideas and in the vegetable industry that was scandalous. We had one contract that said, "Plowing, fall box, spring box." That was moldboard plowing to start with. And they wanted you to have that fall box checked. So we didn't, and they were so upset that they sent a man out from the headquarters and said, "No more contacts unless you plow, not just disturb the surface, plow."
So my dad says, "Have you ever done this before?" "No." "Why don't you wait and see what happens and then make a decision?" Never heard any more from them. So this has been a long range thing for me. And we are looking at, we always plant in firm, undisturbed soil. We may disturb the surface, but our seed is always going into undisturbed soil.Frank Lessiter:
Allen's up in the central area of Wisconsin, does a lot of double cropping. You have crops after early peas, right?Allen Berry:
I do at times, yes, irrigate.Frank Lessiter:
What do you got? You used to have fields 20, 30, 40 miles away.Allen Berry:
I'm spread out for 16 miles today.Frank Lessiter:
When gas prices got really high, he bought a cheap little car and was driving back and forth to run the irrigation systems, right?Allen Berry:
Yes. It takes me, it's 40 to 50 miles to observe everything that I've got. So it saves good money.Frank Lessiter:
Alan, tell us about your operation.Alan Brooks:
Well, my operation, it said here on the information started back about 25 years ago. And at that point in time, we was farming about a thousand acres, half corn, half soybeans, just a little no-till. I actually started no tilling them when I had a neighbor come in and no-till plant some soybeans and standing corn stalks in like 1988, '89. Along about 90 91, I bought a colder cart and a drill on a 20-foot outfit with a rossing cart. And they used that for a few years. But at any rate, over the years we started expanding our operation. My son, who has a full-time crop consulting scouting business, got into the operation with me. And we now are up to a little over 3000 acres that we've been working.
We got involved with Marion Calmer. I did back in about 96 I believe it was. I planted my first 15 inch corn, built my first 15 inch head using his stuff in '97 or so. And we ran along with the narrow rows and didn't do much with trying to no-till corn at that point in time. But we did keep no-tilling our soybeans. Then about 10 years or 12 ago, we rented the northeast field in Missouri. The Des Moines River runs on the north side of the field. The Mississippi River runs on the east side and sometimes it runs on top of it. But at any rate, it doesn't take much fertility there. We've soil tested [inaudible 00:11:58] putting nitrogen on it. I say we've got the best that Illinois and Iowa's got to offer. So thanks to those conventional tillers, save us on a little fertilizer investment.Frank Lessiter:
One of the things we're going to ask you later is the biggest mistake you've ever made in no-till. It wasn't getting involved with Marion Commer, was it?Alan Brooks:
Well, that could be. And I've got a habit established. I seem to have to hang around him and you a little bit.Frank Lessiter:
So Scott, tell us a little about your operation.Scott Davidson:
Well, we're central Illinois about 15 miles south of Decatur and that's where the Farm Progress Show is every other year. Flat black drummer soils and corn bean rotation. Started no till. The transition was '91 through '94 for a better way of taking care of our renewable resource. And the main thing we had to learn first off was patience. Now if it's too wet, go fish or spend more time with your family. When the other guys were out working the ground, we had to just sit it out and let it dry out. I learned that you have to do that or you're going to be out there with a spade for about an hour cleaning out the mud. And I remember the first no-till conference, I gave Alice Messer my money for the next year which would have been in St. Louis because I knew I needed to get back with a group that were on the same page to learn how to take care of our soils better.Frank Lessiter:
One year we had a guy had come to the conference three or four times and Alice was talking to him on the phone or something. And he said he wasn't coming this year. And she said, "Oh, it's too bad we're going to miss you." And he said, "Well, we're going to have a baby just about that time." And so I thought we talk about being patient in no-till and not rushing to the fields. And if you look back, nine months gets you about April 20th. So this is what he was doing instead of pushing himself out in the field. Randall, you're the only one on the panel that's not a farmer. Tell us a little about your background, what you've done in no-till.Randall Reeder:
Well, it's good to be up here with the real farmers. I'm kind of the oddball character on this panel. But I started at Ohio State in 1979 and about three or four years later I started working with ridge tillage programs and then took over a research project in the middle 1980s that included ridge till and plowing. And we converted some of that to no-till in a few years. And those plots are still going on by the way in northwest Ohio. We've added some things to it. We've added cover crops and some other research to that. I've also started compaction plots in 1987. I won't go into much detail, but they started out with shallow chisel plowing everything and then subsoiling part of them to see if we could eliminate deep tillage with subsoiling, and our compaction was done, you fella's will think about this, a huge 600 bushel grain cart and that was 20 tons on the axle. And what we found out was that when we subs soiled, it improved yields.
So subsoiling was reducing the compaction in the deep layers. And our research probably sold quite a few subsoilers in that area. In 2002, and we've continued it this way since then, I said, "To heck with chisel plowing. We're going to go continuous no-till and compare no-till to subsoiling." And you folks will love this result. The no-tilling resist compaction better than the plots that are subs soiled about every three years. In other words, the yields are better where we had the no-till compared to the subsoiling. So that's part of what I've done. I've also, much of my job has been organizing a conservation tillage conference. And we started that in the middle 1980s. So that conference actually started before this one. And I'm also involved in planning no-till conferences and field days in Ohio.Frank Lessiter:
So let's talk about this a minute. Is Ohio State a land grant university?Randall Reeder:
Of course.Frank Lessiter:
And the Big 10.Randall Reeder:
And a football powerhouse.Frank Lessiter:
Well, they're probably number two in the nation because they lost to the national champs.Randall Reeder:
They lost to the national champs. Yep.Frank Lessiter:
You knew where I was going.Randall Reeder:
[inaudible 00:17:05].Frank Lessiter:
Took my line. A question I want you to think about, I'm going to ask you what the biggest impact no-till has had in your operation, whether it's money, weed control, time with the family or whatever. Scott, we'll start with you.Scott Davidson:
Okay. Well, it's the people that I've met over the years, like Carl Crovetto from Chile. And I met him after the first no-till conference in Peoria and he was like a preacher pounding away at the podium about the scourge of tillage. And he definitely doesn't like bailing up residue off the field and burning it. The ground grew it and the ground needs to keep it. And other people will be like... '93, I was clear at the back of the room and I found out real quick that this guy from North Dakota, Dwayne Beck does not need a microphone. Hello? And then there's another one that's Jill Clapperton. She gives a heck of a good presentation. She shows slides of the beneficial critters on the top of the soil profile that look like a scientific... They're right out of a science movie and she's a firecracker. She'd jump off the stage and throw her fist in the air and say, "I know how to take care of people. I got a boy 6'4" and one's 6'6" and if I hear a phone go off, I'm going to come out and get $20 from you."
I don't know if you remember that or not, but she's really good. And let's see, there's another one. Oh, always like to have one guy come by to give us words of wisdom. Will Rogers, is he here?Frank Lessiter:
He's here. Okay, all right.Frank Lessiter:
Doesn't have his cowboy hat on. All the people we talked about we've had speakers, Carlos Crovetto from Chile, we had a couple times and all the others. Interesting story with Jill Clapperton. Her son was a student at North Dakota State University in their flying program and I think he graduated like two years ago. And North Dakota has a really good program on drones. And out of his graduating class that year, there were maybe 10 or 15. 75% of those kids went to work for Google who's going to deliver stuff with drones. Brian, what's your number one impact with no-till?Brian Van Holten:
Yeah. I would say no-till for me has been something that allowed me to farm on my own terms. I have always been kind of fussy about equipment and not liking things to get bent or scratched or anything. And it's been difficult for me to manage people. I've always kind of liked to work on my own because of my unrealistic expectations for labor sometimes. And no-till allows me to do what I enjoy doing every day without the stress of managing people. I've been fortunate, we don't have as big of fields as a lot of you guys do. But basically I can take one tractor and with a 40 foot planter and a 40 foot air seater and 120 foot sprayer and farm a lower 3000 acres on my own with just some part-time help moving grain away from the combine and with a tillage system, that would be impossible. So it's kind of allowed me to live my dream and do what I enjoy doing, whereas I couldn't do it the other way.Frank Lessiter:
Okay. R.D., what about you?R.D. Walder:
Pretty hard to say for just the one benefit, but the main thing is no tills enabled me to cover a lot more acres. Erosion, less erosion. Most of you know the benefits, but we have a lot of hills in our area and we just don't get much erosion anymore. Rocks, we have to deal with a lot of rocks. A lot of people like rowers to smash rocks down. Well, you still got the problem next year. And if you realize people with rocks, conventional tillage, you hit a rock, it kind of gives pretty well. No till, it's kind of knocked in the soil. It doesn't give very well much at all and it's a little harder on the machinery. So we worked mighty hard on getting rid of rocks so we don't have to keep dealing with.Frank Lessiter:
My wife and I were down in Virginia maybe 10 years ago and went into a gift shop on one of the plantations and somehow the lady behind the counter heard me say something about no-till. And she says, "I hate no-till." And I said, "Why?" She says, "Moldboard plowing turns up some civil war relics that we can make a ton of money on." The other thing is about rocks. Charlie Hammer who comes to this conference quite often, I don't think he's here this year, but no-till has cut into some of his cash too because he'll get landscape contractors coming up from Chicago and buying a semi-load of big rocks at big, big bucks. And I remember when I was a kid, we used to haul rocks out of our fields and put them in the fence rows. And I go into a garden shop now and that damn big rock is selling for 125 bucks. Who did I miss? Alan, biggest thing you've gotten out of-R.D. Walder:
I think it's learning, and this is something that all of you will do too. Learning how to think objectively. You're being exposed to many different ideas now and throughout the years I've been exposed to a huge number of ideas here and other places and we're learning how to cope with those, to try them and to objectively analyze them is probably one of the biggest benefits I've had.Frank Lessiter:
Alan didn't tell the whole story about the canning company wanted him to plow. One of the early years when he no-tilled after they told him he had to plow and he didn't do it was a wet spring during harvest season, probably in June. And P-harvesters couldn't work in most of the conventional fields. And one day they found out in his no-till fields, they could work. There were, what? Five or six harvesters in one field that day. And he never heard another word from the canning company about having to moldboard plow. Did I miss anybody? Alan, okay.Alan Brooks:
Yeah. I think one of the biggest advantages I find with no-till, it's a lot less stressful, especially at planning time in the spring. Back when we used to do a lot of tillage in the eighties and the early nineties there, you had more tractors to fool with and you had to keep the tillage tools running and they had to be so far ahead of the planter and you just had more things to deal with. Now, the only thing we have to do is get on the tractor with the planter and go out and go to plant and it just is a lot more relaxed and easier to get the crop in and less stress at that real critical time in the spring.Frank Lessiter:
Randall, what do you see as the biggest pluses for no-till with the farmers you work with?Randall Reeder:
Well, I think number one is eliminating erosion as we've added cover crops. I think another thing, I don't know, this may be a different question, but I see the opportunity of injecting fertilizer, injecting phosphorus. We've got a problem with Western Lake Erie. There's problems with nitrogen in the Gulf of Mexico so we had to be more precise. And we use the word injecting intentionally because the word incorporate gets included sometimes and for most farmers, if they hear the word incorporate, they just translate that as plowing. So injecting, we've got the John Deere 2510 that does a good job of injecting Exactrix. Guy Swanson's here. So those are opportunities and specifically designed for no-till.Frank Lessiter:
So it reminds me, you mentioned ridge till earlier and we had a ridge till newsletter for a few years and then we kind of got out of it. And ridge tillers used to get really mad at some of the no tillers because they were always bad mouthing ridge till. So what's happening with strip till today? We're doing controlled traffic, which the ridge tillers believed in. We're doing deep injection of fertilizer, which the ridge tillers believed in. We were cultivating up a berm, which the ridge tillers believed in, and we were banding fertilizer, which the ridge till people believed in. But they used to get mad at the no tillers who were bad mouthing ridge till.Randall Reeder:
I think the no tillers learned from the ridge tillers.Frank Lessiter:
Exactly, right.Mackane Vogel:
We'll come back to the episode in a moment, but first I'd like to thank our sponsor, Martin-Till for supporting today's podcast. As farmers themselves, the people at Martin-Till know the frustration that unforeseen obstacles can bring, especially weather. While no one can control drought or untimely rains, Martin-Till can help equip your planner to allow for more time spent planting and less time waiting to get seed in the ground. Thank you for considering Martin Till products. And now let's get back to the conversation.Frank Lessiter:
Let's get in a little lighter spot here and talk about something that happened zany or something. You got a story fun type thing from the no-till conference?Randall Reeder:
Oh, I've got to throw in a Will Rogers quote that I just thought of this morning that certainly applies. A man learns by two things. One is reading and the other is associating with smarter people. Now, think about these conferences that we've had for 25 years. You are coming here to learn from smarter people and we sure had a long list of speakers here today who were experts. Another thing he said was we're all ignorant, we're just ignorant on different subjects. So again, it's the idea of learning from those who are smarter and smarter in other areas than we are. The point about reading, you mentioned the ridge till newsletter, the No-Till Farmer, so we're all reading every month and learning in that way too. In terms of the fun things, I think all of you would agree with this. Probably from my standpoint, the most fun was the Will Rogers presidential primaries in 2008 and 2012. Let's see, you played Mitt Romney I think and Steve Groff was very good as Senator Santorum.
But I think all of us would agree the star of the show was Hillary.Alice Messer and her short orange skirt. And that's the only time Hillary's ever been in a skirt. I commented to somebody this week that if Hillary had worn a skirt once in a while, she might've got elected and they said, "No, that would've reduced the vote rather than increasing it."Frank Lessiter:
Anybody else got something? Let me tell this one first. We were here in St. Louis, must've been the fourth or fifth year. It was a guy from Iowa who would come to most of the conferences up that time, but he didn't come that year. But he sent his two sons, sent he is two sons to the conference. So it's a Tuesday through Saturday conference. One of our staffers are coming down in the elevator on Saturday about 11 o'clock. And these two brothers are talking and one said to the other, "How are we going to tell dad we never went to a single session?" True story. True story. Alan.Alan Brooks:
I was just going to tell a story that we reviewed a little bit last night with Frank. And the way he used to run the conference, he was very strict about everything. And one of the things, you always had to shut your cell phones off and so forth. So he made that announcement, went down, sat in the audience. Marion Calmer come up, done his presentation. And near the end of that presentation, a cell phone went off. Guess whose phone it was? Marion looked over at Frank said, "Well, that'll be 10 bucks." Frank, immediately, as he always does when him and Marion are bantering back and forth, he had an answer. He said, "That was my wife calling me to wake me up at the end of your talk."Frank Lessiter:
Another true story. Anybody else got anything?Scott Davidson:
I've seen something one time where you had a movie made of you in your driveway with a big box of cell phones and you were busting them up with a golf club or a [inaudible 00:30:37] or something.Frank Lessiter:
Sledgehammer. We used a sledgehammer.Scott Davidson:
A sledgehammer. Yeah. Shut that phone off. Did you tell the joke about Aunt Mead?Frank Lessiter:
About what?Scott Davidson:
About Aunt Mead? You used to tell a lot of jokes back in the early days. You remember the one about Aunt Mead? I guess no.Frank Lessiter:
No, I got dementia.Scott Davidson:
Oh, pardon me?Frank Lessiter:
Oh, you met her.Frank Lessiter:
No, no.Scott Davidson:
Go ahead. I thought maybe you remembered.Frank Lessiter:
No. We talked about what no-till has meant to you. Tell us the biggest mistake you've ever made in no-till and then tell us how you solved it. Anybody want to start? Brian start.Brian Van Holten:
Probably the biggest mistake for me, don't give up too early. In 1997, I planted my first cover crop and I was only a year out of my day job at that point and had a stand failure on the first one and replanted the corn, and wasn't what I wanted even on the second planting. And tried the same thing the next year and I gave up. And I looked back and I regret that. I've always sincerely felt that if you do the right thing for the right reason, the good Lord will back you up every time. And I should have had the confidence to stick with that. What could be more right than protecting the land with a cover crop?
And if I'd have just stuck with it to the degree that people like Gabe Brown and Dave Brandt and others that I've learned about at this conference, I'd be 20 years into this thing at this point and I would probably be seeing the same incredible results that they've seen. And so I didn't see it through, I only went partway. And now I'm 50 years old and I've lost a lot of time and really I'm starting full bore now. I'm just kind of setting something up for someone else, which is okay, but I really regret that I didn't see that through.Frank Lessiter:
I've had a number of people tell me the biggest regret is they didn't start doing something much earlier. Cover crops comes up. My dad used to seed cover crops in the late 1940s I can remember out there and then cover crops kind of got away from us. Now they're coming back. Allen, what do you got for the biggest mistake you ever made?Allen Berry:
Probably more than once, but assuming a weeded was dead when it wasn't.Frank Lessiter:
That's about six words, man. That's powerful. I won't cut you off in the middle of that answer. Scott.Scott Davidson:
If it's too wet, it's too wet. That's the main thing.Frank Lessiter:
That's even better.Scott Davidson:
That's it. That's less words.Frank Lessiter:
Probably a little too slow at parking the disc in the field cultivator. But it took me a few years coming to these conferences to figure out it needed parked. And by around 2000, slightly after then we pretty well parked it for both corn and beans where it belongs.Frank Lessiter:
Good. R.D.?R.D. Walder:
Speaking of a field cultivator, it had to be one of the early conferences. I went home and from listening to a speaker bought a field cultivator. It was just the opposite of what you would expect at the no-till conference. And he had data saying he got better yields using a field cultivator. We still have it, it gets used. We still do sporadic tillage on our continuous irrigated corn. We actually are doing ripping or colder chiseling now because we've done the VT, the vertical tillage stuff, either a disc or Salford, different tools. We were getting the compaction layer just several inches down. Our corn roots were going sideways. And this is on pretty sandy gravelly soil, stuff that two inches of rain means not much more and wait till tomorrow to get back on it. We used to have a compaction layer and that was kind of one of the worst.Frank Lessiter:
Randall, you got something?Randall Reeder:
I'm saying he just got fired from the no-till conference for [inaudible 00:34:49].Frank Lessiter:
We still take his money.Randall Reeder:
No, let me just add something. It's not answering that question probably, but one of the biggest benefits that I had because of the conferences that I'm planning, and by the way, most university professors are smart enough not to plan conferences. They just go speak at them. But meeting people here and hearing them and then inviting them to come to Ohio and speak at our conferences, I think that's one of the biggest benefits that I've gotten personally and also a benefit for our Ohio farmers.Frank Lessiter:
Randall did a lot of work on controlled traffic and actually spent what, three, four months in Australia looking at it at one time?Randall Reeder:
Right. Well, going back 25 years, that first conference I was on the microphone and answered the questions that came from the audience. And my only two words that year were, "Control traffic." So that was my start as a speaker at this conference.Frank Lessiter:
One of the things I remember about the first conference, there was a guy here from the thumb area of Michigan, probably around Bay City or someplace. Called me up in February. He had never no tilled an acre in his life, had a sale in mid-February, sold every piece of tillage equipment he had and went cold turkey that spring on 1200 acres of no-till. And he made it work, but man, he didn't get me encouraging him to do it, not at 1200 acres.R.D. Walder:
I'm going to say on mistakes, there's a couple of things. One more is I think most people underestimate what their cost of running equipment across the fields are. I think many of us, and I've been guilty of it, we just way underestimate what it's costing us when you figure all the cost. And secondly, most of us are doing variable rate technology or variable rate application fertilizer. I tried some of this, I don't know, whenever. They started doing it. Worked with two companies on a smaller, maybe 10% of our acres on each company there. One was a three-year program. They wanted to build the soil fertility levels up to too high of levels and they wanted to use pale lime to correct pH. Pale lime has its place, but you don't want to do it every year. And to me, they wanted to sell fertilizer, too many labs or whatever. They were trying to build it up a little higher level than needed. And our soils, we have some pretty light soils, we cannot hold potash very well. Most of you don't have that problem, but we don't hold it.
And then the other company had a four year program and it was the third year before they got the lime applied. They had too many acres. We weren't very high up on their priority list to get it on. So we'd already lost a couple years. And then when they did apply it, we had our local elevator I dealt with quite a bit. They scooped up enough fertilizer that the other company spread out just their payload or they scooped up another, I don't know, five to 10 ton to spread.
And along with that, they were doing three acre grids, which I do zone testing now, have that done. But then we had a 21 acre field, rectangular field. To me it sounds like ought to have three, or excuse me, seven three acre samples. We had eight. That sounds a lot better because they just split it down the middle so they had a half a grid on the top of each side. That all sounds good until you look at it. How many of you have ever seen two samples side by side have identical results? And so instead of doing eight samples, they just did six.Frank Lessiter:
He's talking about variable rate. And the other night at the reception I sat with David Barton from Southern Mississippi and his wife. They've been variable rating fertilizer. They're variable rate applying lime and they're also variable rate applying chicken manure. So they've really gone a long ways. Brian was talking about taking good care of his equipment. If you were in the machine repeat session the other day, he talked about how really taking care of your equipment can really increase the value of it. And they had the guy I think from Arkansas talk about how his wife would take a toothbrush and clean the combine cab every year and how it really increased the value of that combine at resale time.Scott Davidson:
Benefits of no-till, I got a story to tell. I heard this from Jim Kinsella back in the early nineties. It's like when you have a wiener roast going on and the fire starts to die down, what do you do? You take a stick and you stoke the fire and you stoke the fire, it gets hotter and it burns the wood up quicker. Well, the same way with tillage. You're burning up organic matter. You're not creating, you're destroying.Frank Lessiter:
We're going to have to wind this up. I miss anything that somebody wants to make a real comment about?Scott Davidson:
I had my dad down there five years ago and we got a aerial shot of the progress show. That's what we do. And I'm running out of wall space. I don't know about you. But we didn't get it done. My son talked me into it. And I started to, but I found out that they put a net over Progress City because of drone activity. So there's another piece of equipment for your machinery shed.Frank Lessiter:
We have a drone at our company, we've shot a bunch of photos with it and video. And Jeff who's kind of our photographer design guy shoots weddings and is into giving drone coverage to weddings and doing that. And Jeff will also tell you that there's a drone someplace, he doesn't know where it is. It belongs to him, but he doesn't know where it is.Mackane Vogel:
That's it for this episode of the No-Till Farmer Influencers and Innovators podcast. Thanks to Frank Lessiter, Allen Berry, Alan Brooks, RD Wolheter, Brian Van Holton, Randall Reeder, and Scott Davidson for that great conversation. We hope you'll join these familiar names and hundreds of other no tillers at the 2024 National No-Tillage Conference coming up January 9th through 12th in Indianapolis. Go to no-till conference.com to register and thanks to our sponsor, Martin-Till, for helping to make this podcast possible. A transcript of this episode and our archive of previous podcast episodes are both available at no-till farmer.com. For our entire staff here at No-Till Farmer, I'm Mackane Vogel. Thanks for listening. Keep on no tilling and have a great day.