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What I've Learned from No-Tilling: After Nearly 25 Years, Improvements Still Keep Coming

An open mind welcomes a lot of ideas that, with a little tweaking, can deliver even more success to your fields.

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NAME: Pat Sheridan Jr. (Operates Sheridan Farms Ltd. with father, Pat Sr.)

LOCATION: Fairgrove, Mich.

YEARS OF NO-TILLING: 21 (16 in continuous no-till)

CROPS NO-TILLED: Corn, sugar beets, soybeans, dry beans, cover crops (cereal rye, oilseed radish, Austrian peas, hairy vetch)

Talk to 10 no-tillers and you’ll probably hear 10 slightly different viewpoints on why it pays to quit disturbing and start building the soil. At Sheridan Farms, we’ve got our list, too. We’ve been able to drop from five marketed crops to two or three without any loss in productivity or farm income.

We are able to better time planting, weed control and other production chores. And we’ve got the potential for sediment and nutrient runoff into Saginaw Bay on Lake Huron under control. Like a lot of no-tillers would testify, however, these changes didn’t come quickly, nor without some reluctance and skepticism along the way.

How to Do It Wrong

In our first years of no-tilling, starting in 1982, we did just about everything wrong and had an absolute train wreck. You could rationalize that we were doing the best we knew how. No-till information for Michigan was scarce. We were basing our early no-till efforts on data from other areas of the country where they were successfully planting corn after wheat. We soon learned we had the wrong equipment — bubble coulters on a John Deere 7000 planter — and later realized corn after wheat was not the right rotation for us.

We started…

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Ross_ron

Ron Ross

Ron Ross pioneered the “What I’ve Learned from No-Tilling” series that has appeared in every issue of No-Till Farmer since August of 2002. He authored more than 100 of these articles.

A graduate of South Dakota State University’s agricultural journalism program, Ross spent most of his career as a writer and editor.

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