DOUBLE TIME. A 100-acre field of diverse cover crops overlooks corn silage harvesting, cover-crop planting and manure spreading. Covers are planted immediately after harvest of all crops to keep harvesting sunlight all year long.

Harvesting Sunlight, Feeding No-Till Soils

Jim Harbach and Schrack Farms Partnership is using a diverse no-till, cover-crop system to build up organic-matter levels in rocky limestone soils.

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Name: James Harbach

Farm: Schrack Farms Partnership

Location: Loganton, Pa.

Years No-Tilling: 40

Acres: 2,200

Crops: Corn, corn silage, soybeans, triticale/cereal rye and alfalfa

Our farm perplexed our crop advisor, Gerard Troisi. He consults with many farms in our area of Pennsylvania with a diverse range of production practices. But he struggled to explain how we increased our soil organic matter by 1% in just 3 years while consistently removing virtually all biomass.

Confusing as it was, the results of 80 soil samples in a 400-acre field are hard to argue.

Conventional thinking says the key to increasing soil organic matter is to leave residue in the field, which we didn’t do. It’s also generally thought to be impossible to see such a significant increase in soil organic matter in such a short time. What we’ve achieved, we believe, is due to the fact that the soil doesn’t only feed the plants — the plants feed the soil.

The acres we’ve achieved such impressive results on are in close proximity to our 1,000-cow dairy. We reserve those acres for silage crops, so we don’t have to haul the sheer mass of harvest so far.

Every year we plant corn, harvest it for silage and then immediately drill a cereal rye-triticale cover crop. We harvest the cover mix as silage in the spring and seed the acres right back to corn. A few days later we use a drag-hose system to spread low-solids, separated manure on the fields…

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Martha mintz new

Martha Mintz

Since 2011, Martha has authored the highly popular “What I’ve Learned About No-Till” series that has appeared in every issue of No-Till Farmer since August of 2002.

Growing up on a cattle ranch in southeastern Montana, Martha is a talented ag writer and photographer who lives with her family in Billings, Montana.

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