What I've Learned From No-Tilling: Cover Crops, Residue Whip No-Till Fields Into Shape

Since retiring from a local shop, Michigan no-tiller Larry Bonnell is using his extra time to focus on putting soil, microbes, insects and crops to work in his no-till system.

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NAME: Larry Bonnell

LOCATION: Pittsford, Mich.


ACRES: 300 acres

CROPS: Corn, Soybeans, Wheat

On a chilly November day 2 years ago, I was deer hunting in one of the fence rows I’ve left to help manage erosion in my hilly fields.

As I sat there along one of my no-tilled fields, I watched an earthworm come up out of his hole, grab a soybean leaf and pull it right back down after him. Then he did it again.

I sat for almost 2 hours watching him work away pulling residue deep into the soil — and he was still working when I left. Watching that earthworm work, when he should be sleeping the winter away, proved to me that I’ve created a good home for soil organisms with no-till and cover crops.

Microbes, worms and bugs are fed and working year round thanks to plenty of easily digestible crop residue. They’re not in a survival-of-the-fittest situation, fighting for a short-term supply of food like they were when I farmed conventionally.

I now make a lot of decisions based on what’s best for my soil organisms, and it’s helped me be successful at no-tilling.

Shifting Focus

The fact that soil organisms are there working year round, and that I have time to observe them, is due to my retirement in 2000 from working in the shop at Kelsey Hayes Wheels.

Prior to retirement, farming was my side job. Conventional farming was unpredictable, so I would…

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Martha Mintz

Contributing Editor

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