NATURAL INDICATORS. McCutchenville, Ohio, no-tiller Bret Margraf looks to cover crops to determine the appropriate time to plant, particularly the Austrian winter peas. He says once the peas have bolted, then he knows he has the right moisture, heat and sunlight to start corn and soybean planting.

Crop Diversity, Precision Technology Push No-Till Further

Seeing the potential for more than just erosion control, Ohio growers Bret and Gene Margraf overhauled their no-till system by adding wheat and cover crops, variable-rate seeding and fertility and split-nitrogen applications.

Thirteen thousand pounds of residue sounds like a lot to manage, but on Bret Margraf’s farm it’s not something to worry about.

In just one year, earthworms residing in the McCutchenville, Ohio, no-tiller’s fields were able to consume that much dry matter and then some.

When soil scientist Frank Gibbs talked about the Margraf farm during his presentation at the National No-Tillage Conference earlier this year, he showed a photo of a corn leaf being pulled into an earthworm midden.

Building a flourishing earthworm population wasn’t an overnight success, but it didn’t take long for Bret and his father, Gene, to experience such benefits in creating a three-rotation no-till system.

The Margrafs are focused on improving soil fertility, reducing compaction and erosion, buffering crops from weather extremes and increasing yields.

Protecting Soil, Crops With Covers

Their system overhaul started about 10 years ago, when the Margrafs adopted no-till to reduce erosion on their hilly fields.

A few years later they decided to try cover crops, focusing again on the slopes. They realized the benefits of keeping the ground covered so they decided to expand them to their entire option. Today, fields that aren’t going into wheat production are cover cropped, which means 100% of their 1,000 acres have something growing and protecting the soil throughout the winter.

The Margrafs use a variety of cover crops, but one of their go-to species is cereal rye, which they prefer to aerially apply to two-thirds of their corn acres. As of mid-September, Bret…

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Laura allen

Laura Barrera

Laura Barrera is the former managing editor of No-Till Farmer and Conservation Tillage Guide magazines. Prior to joining No-Till Farmer, she served as an assistant editor for a greenhouse publication. Barrera holds a B.A. in magazine journalism from Ball State University.

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