The 2024 National No-Tillage Conference hosted dozens of no-tillers and no-till experts talking about planting, harvest and everything in between. As planting season quickly approaches, here are the top 10 planting tips from the presentations at the 32nd annual conference. Click on the link under each tip to view the speaker’s full presentation, and check out the 2024 National No-Tillage Conference presentation archive here.


  1. Properly set your planter.
     “Focus on the fundamentals. Learn how to set your planter. We are dealing with a pyramid. Mother Nature's got the lower 90%, and we're playing with that top 10%. We've got to get very good at setting our equipment and learning how to manage that. The rest of it is Mother Nature.”
    Loran Steinlage, No-Till Innovator, West Union, Iowa
  2. Run the right closing wheels and openers for your conditions.
     “I have a John Deere 1770NT planter. It's older. I've made a lot of changes. I run a Yetter spiked closing wheel. This has been good for me in less-than-ideal conditions. It's not always that perfect, crumbly soil when I go out and plant. Sometimes it's a little bit sticky, and those Yetter closing wheels zip the soil together. When I started, I had lots of disc opener bearings with the John Deere planter. I don't use a no-till coulter, and it puts a lot of stress on the disc openers. The original equipment openers, either the rivets failed or the bearings failed, but I was replacing them 2-3 times before I got 1,000 acres planted.

    The other thing was the disc openers would get dull very quickly. If they were brand new when I started planting, by the time that I got to the end of my 1,000 acres, they were just kind of mashing the rye down in the row. And if you get a piece of rye straw or annual ryegrass or just residue next to the corn seed, it doesn't grow very well. I switched to Prescription Tillage Technology STP openers. They're a serrated opener, kind of like a saw tooth. One side's bigger than the other side. It's a leading edge, kind of like a Case planter, and I really like those. The bearings are better. The disc openers stay sharper, and they do a great job of slicing through residue.”
    Mike Starkey, No-Till Innovator, Brownsburg, Ind.
  1. Consider an air seeder instead of a planter.
    “I love my Bourgault air seeder. It's got a 650-bushel cart that I can put 4 different products on that are variable rate and metered. I can go out there with high seeding rate crops like peas and chickpeas and drill 80 acres without having to refill. Lesser crops, I can literally just load it up in the morning and I can go drill all day. I can knock out 200 acres in a day and not have to refill.

    I'm also lazy. I don't like fixing things, and planters love to be fixed. The other year, my neighbor spent all winter rebuilding his planter, went through it end to end. He went out and made one pass, and about halfway through that pass, something went bad, and he had to go back and fix it. And I'm out there in my Air Seeder — it's a 5-degree tilt coulter with packers on it, no gauge wheels or anything — and I just go. I can do anything with that air seeder.

    The metering system on Bourgault’s air seeders are actually a cross auger. By every revolution of the full auger, they know exactly what that volume is. And as long as you know how many seeds are in that weight of that volume, it's actually a really accurate metering system, and it's really gentle.

    I go out with my air seeder on 12-inch spacings, and we're dropping 27,500 on corn, 35,000 on flowers, 50,000 on milo and 100,000 on beans. At our seeding rate, we essentially drop a corn plant every 13½ inches, and that is a 12,000 plant population. So what I did is I drew my 16 rows, and because it's an air seeder, it's random — it's like a shotgun. I have line monitoring on every seed row on my air seeder, and so I can see that variation across the toolbar. As the temperature of the day changes, it changes how the density of that product is moving through that air seeder. If you're not adjusting your fan speed on your air seeder, you're not going to have good distribution.

    We actually upgraded all of our distribution systems. There's a company in Canada, Agri Stainless, that does custom distribution systems out of stainless steel. We upgraded that distribution system, and suddenly I could get even distribution across my toolbar within 5%. We always thought we had track marks behind the tractor and the seed cart on the air seeder. We didn't — we had uneven distribution, so the wings were getting more seed than there was behind the tractor. And thanks to the Agtron monitoring system that we have, we were able to determine that and then upgrade our equipment."
    Roy Pfaltzgraff, No-Tiller, Haxtun, Co.
  1. Hydraulic downforce pays in corn (and hopefully soybeans).
    “Hydraulic downforce is something that I added to my corn planter 2 years ago, and this year it will be on my soybean planter. It's expensive, but in no-till and cover crop conditions, depending on your residue and soil type and a lot of other factors, the density of your soil and the resistance to the planter changes as you drive through the field. And I had a lot of trouble keeping consistent seeding depth with pneumatic downforce. I know hydraulic downforce pays in corn, and I hope it pays in soybeans."
    Mike Starkey

Nutrient Management at Planting

  1. Try coating seed in sugar.
     “I was talking with Russell Hedrick once, and he said he put table sugar in furrow when he plants his corn. I got this idea — instead of adding water to my liquid inoculant, I'm going to just use simple syrup because that way I get some sugar on my seed, and we're going to figure out how nutty Russell really is.

    So I went out there, and I drilled peas in this field on the diagonal, and then because I like to be contrary to the world, I harvested it with the terraces. So if there's going to be a difference on your yield monitor, it's got to be obvious to show up when you start cutting across your samples. Most guys harvest with their test plots and then so that way it's really obvious. I'm like, yeah, screw it. It’s easier for me to run with a terrace.

    I don't tell my agronomist what I do because I believe that I would influence his observations. It's like a month later, and he's like, ‘It is the weirdest thing on the 48-acre field, you stand at the corner of the field, and I swear there is a diagonal line through that field right where you planted. I started laughing, and I explained to him that I put sugar on the seed.

    Sugar, does sugar make a difference? Well, it sure the heck looks like sugar makes a difference. My cost per acre that year on sugar was $0.16. Am I going to put sugar out there at $0.16 an acre? If it's wrong, it's the cheapest mistake I make. If it's right, it's guaranteed the best return on investment that I will ever have on an input. It was 0 vs. 20 bushel. Peas are $15 a bushel. $0.16? Good return.”
    Roy Pfaltzgraff
  1. Put nitrogen on with the planter.
     “It's critical to have nitrogen on your planter in a no-till and cover crop environment. Critical. I put on 70 pounds of nitrogen with my corn planter up front with Totally Tubular fertilizer tubes. It’s 30%. The first drop of nitrogen that I have on the field is with the corn planter. We pull a Montag around, and this thing is awesome because it tracks your planter. You can back up with this in your field with no problem, getting your corners and everything with this Montag pull-behind thing or tank. We also have a pop-up. I call it my infertile mix, which is critical for me, because I hardly broadcast any commercial fertilizer.

    I use a product from AgroLiquid that puts on my phosphorus, my potassium and my micronutrients and what's needed with my fertilizer jets on the side for my starter. You can put that AgroLiquid on top, and it's a slow-release stabilized nitrogen product. Also I have a product called Access, which is a sulfur product with it. What I like about their products — I'm not selling it — but if you have soil tests on one farm that are different from soil tests from another farm, you can make a recipe based on what that farm's needs. So if you're low on phosphorus on one farm, and you're OK on the other farm, you can change that recipe. In addition, I pull the tank behind for my 2-by-2, which is just going on top of the ground. I don't have any no-till fertilizer coulters. For me, that's a lot of money wasted.”
    Mike Starkey

Planting Green

  1. Don’t be afraid to plant green into tall biomass.
     “The first time I was getting ready to plant into big biomass, I was really panicked because I grew up with a clean tillage scenario. And so I had warm season covers that were almost as tall as the cab on the tractor. And I called Dave, and I said, ‘Dave, you got me into this mess, and I don't know how I'm going to get through that.’ He said, ‘Does that thing have a steering wheel and a gear shift on it?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Well, put the damn thing in gear and go plant, and if you have trouble, call me back.’

    "And I did. Amazingly, the drill performed wonderfully, and it was so easy. Dave called me in about an hour, and he said, ‘How's it going? You haven't called me back.’ And I said, ‘Well, it's going really well, Dave. It's amazing.’ And he said, ‘Well, you just got to think about that a little bit. It's so much easier to drill into it standing up because you don't have to cut through all that stuff. If you lay that all down, you got to cut through all of it and just keep it going.’ I think that's back to his military background. Dave told me, ‘Don't be afraid. I've seen a lot of things in war and travel. Fear can be your greatest enemy. Just look straight forward, put it in gear, and let it go.’"
    Jimmy Emmons, No-Tiller, Leedey, Okla.
  1. Timing is important when planting green.
     “I have planted green into cereal rye with corn. I've planted green into annual ryegrass. I've learned a few things. If you're going to plant green into cereal rye, you better have at least 60 pounds of nitrogen on it planting. Otherwise, the rye is going to tie it up, and the corn doesn't really like being next to growing green rye when it emerges. The one thing that I would encourage anyone is if you plant annual ryegrass, especially if you're planting non-GMO corn, be patient. Wait until your neighbor mows his grass three times. Don't wait on yourself to mow your grass three times if you're like me because in the spring you're busy, and it's probably too late. But watch your neighbor. When he mows three times, it's time to spray your annual ryegrass. Because if your annual ryegrass isn't up and growing and green, it's not going to take in the herbicide and terminate it.”
    Joe Hamilton, No-Tiller, Muncie, Ind.
  2. STP coulters help with planting green.
    “These STP coulters are phenomenal to plant into green cover crop like I do. I think it was 6 years ago when Rick Clark made a presentation here about these coulters. Well, my gosh, after that presentation, I got a set of those, and I never turned back. Highly recommended.

    "We have Dawn gaugetine closing wheels on our corn and soybean planter instead of the Curvetines. Gaugetines work better in green cover. It gives a little bit better firming action. We used to have row cleaners on our soybean planter, but we took those things off because we got cereal rye that could be waist high, and you don't want those things to wrap."
    Mike Starkey

Beyond Planting

  1. Plant the seed of no-till beyond the field.
    “These are fantastic farmers, and other people look to them in the community as good top-notch farmers. It's just that they till. So to change that culture, you just have to plant seeds. And I've learned that this takes time. I think there are some people who are just born with natural curiosity, and they're information seekers, and they want to do the right thing, and they want to do something different. And then it's that next group of individuals that they're good farmers, but they don't necessarily have that high level of information-seeking behavior of going out and pushing the envelope. Those are the ones that you just have to plant some seeds, and the best ones to plant those seeds are the individuals from the first group.”
    Jim Moseley, Retired USDA Deputy Secretary of Agriculture
    “We want to always improve where we're at and challenge our thoughts and what we’re doing. That’s why Dad (Dave Brandt) really enjoyed engaging in conversation with people, to find out what their practices were and how he could take that small grain of what's working for them and apply it in our context, which is an important thing to consider. In talking to Jimmy (Emmons) in how to work in an arid environment, how can we take that in where we're usually super saturated with our types of weather conditions? How do we look at what Loran (Steinlage) was doing with relay cropping and apply that in something to help us in a scenario where we want to use wheat in the rotation, but we know based on that particular ground, maybe it's not going to be a very profitable crop? Can we use this technique to make it a viable option and improve the resiliency of our soil by increasing the rotational aspect of what we're doing? How can we incorporate mechanical control of our cover crops during planting with techniques used, as Rick has shown us?

    Find those associations and build on that, and try it on a scale where it makes an impact, but it's not going to cause too big of an issue. That's what dad always said, ‘It's got to be enough to impact the wallet but not enough to shut the farm down on what you're doing.’ We encourage everyone to look for that and to use these scenarios here where we can build community and relationships to support us in our journey.”
    Jay Brandt, No-Tiller & Son of No-Till Legend David Brandt, Carroll, Ohio

    “Just plant a seed, whether it's helping a young FFA member or an 83-year-old father-in-law, like I did, to take the next step out of their comfort zone. Be supportive because we all need a pat on the back once in a while when we're trying something that we've never tried before, and a lot of the peer pressure and neighbor pressure is pretty extreme. So plant a seed and move forward, and never look back.”
    Jimmy Emmons

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