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What I've Learned From No-Tilling: No-Till’s First Curious Neighbor

For Malcolm Oatts, 4 decades of protecting his farm’s topsoil has rewarded him with more fertile fields and higher yields.

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NAME: Malcolm Oatts

LOCATION: Hopkinsville, Ky.

YEARS NO-TILLING: 45

ACRES: 880

CROPS: Corn, Soybeans, Wheat

I had the good fortune of commanding a front-row seat to the first toddling steps for no-till farming.

Living just 15 minutes down the road from the father of no-till, Harry Young, I was able to watch firsthand as he adapted and adjusted the system to make it work on his farm.

At the time I worked at a John Deere dealership as an equipment salesman. Mr. Young was no-tilling with a little 2-row planter. I tried to get the company interested in the planter and build one, but they just wouldn’t do it.

There came a point where I could see the benefits and wanted to try no-tilling myself. My brother was an excellent welder, so we decided to build our own no-till planter. We took a John Deere planter, welded a bar in front of the planter units and mounted coulters on it.

The disc coulters splintered the soil, cutting a trench for the planter units to drop into. In those days planter units weren’t strong enough to go into the hard ground on their own. We used regular plow coulters.

Our little patched-together unit worked just fine — as long as we were driving in a straight line. The coulters were quite a distance from the row units, so as soon as we’d turn a little the coulters and row units wouldn’t line up.

The row units just couldn’t…

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Martha Mintz

Contributing Editor

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