40-YEAR JOURNEY. Tom Hess solved his erosion problems by switching to no-till in 1984. Multi-species cover crop mixes became a critical piece to the puzzle along the way. Hess keeps living roots in the ground year-round to scavenge nutrients, reduce compaction and feed organisms in the soil. “The soil life does the tillage for me,” Hess says. Photo: Noah Newman

Soil Livestock Makes Farming Easier for Longtime No-Tiller

40 years of no-till helps upper Midwest farmer eliminate erosion problems & boost soil organic matter

Tuscola County, Mich., no-tiller Tom Hess always has one eye on the future. He has never shied away from thinking outside the box either, dating back to his days at Michigan State. 

“I was a 19-year-old kid in the back of the classroom,” Hess recalls. “The professors were talking about Roundup Ready corn and soybeans. I raised my hand and said, ‘If we can engineer resistant crops, don’t you think Mother Nature will engineer resistant weeds?’ They pretty much shot me down.” 

Now when Hess visits with educators, he asks if they’re teaching about microbiology in their classes. He believes everyone with an ag degree should have a solid understanding of soil microbiology. 

“That’s where the game is going,” Hess says. “We need to focus on the livestock in the ground. As Gabe Brown would say, if somebody bulldozes your house every spring, then there’s a heat wave in the summer, and in the winter you’re naked and freezing, you’d need to move or you’re going to die.”

Hess soaks up knowledge from regenerative ag authorities like Brown and No-Till Innovators Ray Archuleta, Loran Steinlage and the late David Brandt. He takes something from everyone and applies it to his farm. Hess is always up for a conversation about conservation, even on vacation. 

“I met a farmer when we were at a vineyard in Uruguay,” Hess says. “We started talking about cover crops and how to deal with dry conditions he was experiencing. My wife said, ‘Oh boy, here goes…

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Noah Newman

Noah Newman started at Lessiter Media in March 2022 as Associate Editor for No-Till FarmerStrip-Till Farmer and Cover Crop Strategies. He previously worked in broadcast journalism as a sports anchor/reporter for television stations in central Illinois and most recently Jackson, Mississippi, where he was named the state’s sportscaster of the year by the National Sports Media Association. The Cleveland, Ohio, native looks forward to engaging with growers, learning extensively about their operations, and sharing impactful stories with the audience.

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