The 19th Class of No-Till Innovators was recognized at the 23rd annual National No-Tillage Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The program, sponsored by Syngenta and No-Till Farmer, honors individuals and organizations for their ongoing commitment to and contributions toward advancing agriculture while protecting resources and promoting healthier soils through no-till management.

Acceptance is continuing to grow for no-till farming as an environmentally sound and economical method of crop management. The number of growers using conservation tillage continues to increase as well, due in part to the endeavors of this year’s award winners.

The No-Till Innovators have made important contributions to the conservation movement and were chosen based on dedication to the advancement of no-till farming, regardless of the type of crop grown and equipment, seed, seed treatment or crop protection products used.

“At Syngenta, we aim to provide growers with products and methods to increase efficiencies in farming that help improve yield and quality potential,” says Wendell Calhoun, communication manager for Syngenta. “As leaders in no-till farming, this year’s winners have proven themselves pioneers in the effort to increase adoption of sustainable farming methods, and Syngenta is proud to be part of such a valuable program and conference.”

The four honorees for 2014 are:

  • Ag Spectrum Co., Business and Service
  • Mike Beer, South Dakota no-tiller, Crop Production
  • Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference (CTC), Organization
  • Joel Gruver, Research and Education

Ag Spectrum Co. — Business and Service

Based in DeWitt, Iowa, Ag Spectrum Co. was formed 30 years ago by six men raised on family farms who were farming or involved in the ag industry.

They were driven by the belief that there was a better way to raise a crop in order to protect and respect the naturally occurring nutrients in the soil, all while safeguarding long-term soil health and productivity. This collective belief led them to begin experimenting with a variety of different methods, and ultimately led to the development of a system that supports the needs of plants and improves the quality of our agricultural soils.

Today, this system is called the Maximum Farming System. Maximum Farming encourages air and water management using no-till and other products to loosen and aerate the soil to create a better environment for better yield. The system is used throughout the Corn Belt, as well as in Florida and California, and has been effective on corn, soybeans, wheat, alfalfa, cotton, citrus and variety of other crops.

Maximum Farming is based on supplying the plant with the right nutrients, at the right time and in the right place and form. It’s designed to support the plant needs, which helps growers to achieve the greatest return for bushel produced.

Ag Spectrum promotes the use of biologicals at planting time, micronutrients, in-furrow applications, spring nitrogen applications, split nitrogen applications and foliar feeding throughout the growing season. This system increases yield and lowers cost per acre.

To fine-tune and validate the system, Ag Spectrum has invested millions of dollars in research over the years. The company focuses on basic science research to understand how a plant develops, what nutrients a plant needs at various stages of growth and how to deliver those nutrients to the plant.

The company has grown to include about 125 representatives in 22 states. Ag Spectrum associates are an effective educational resource for their growers. They host local field days where attendees learn about basic science, examine plant health and growth, and discuss modifications in equipment set-up.

Ag Spectrum values educating growers and associates alike. In order to bring the research to the people, the company hosts a series of meetings. Maximum Farming Forums are two-day meetings designed to explain the System to interested growers. These winter meetings take place in three different regions in January and February and typically attract 200-400 attendees. The meetings focus on basic science and the fundamental beliefs of the Maximum Farming System.

“Our approach to raising the crop is to provide the plant with what it needs, when it needs it, and most importantly, in the right form for effective uptake,” says Cliff Ramsier, Ag Spectrum’s co-owner and technical director. “While many companies have recently entered this market, Ag Spectrum has invested in research for more than 30 years, to understand the basic science that supports maximizing energy within the plant.”

Mike Beer — Crop Production

After graduating from South Dakota State University with a degree in agronomy in 1991, Mike Beer of Keldron, S.D., believed farming could be done differently by practicing no-till.

His interest in no-till was sparked in 1990, following three consecutive years of extremely dry conditions in the state. Beer knew farmers in central South Dakota who was starting to use no-till and thought it also would work — and was worth trying — in Corson County, S.D, where he farms.

Many locals were skeptical that no-till could work, saying Beer wouldn’t be able to raise corn and other crops due to insufficient rain. Despite their skepticism, Beer began implementing no-till in 1992 to conserve moisture and soil. He was the first in his area to try no-till operations.

In his years of practice, Beer has definitely found success with no-till, and his accumulated experience allows him to plant and harvest almost year round, with increased yields and diversified rotations as a result. Today, he continues to use no-till and his acreage has increased. His rotation now includes wheat, corn, sunflowers, yellow/green peas, alfalfa and flax in a no-till rotation.

Beer has served on the Corson County Soil Conservation District Board since 1992. When he first joined the board, he introduced no-till to the county by persuading the board to purchase no-till farm equipment, including drills and planters, which the district could lease out to farmers. The program was a huge success and now includes a manure spreader as well.

After experiencing success with no-till, many farmers who rented the equipment later bought their own no-till machinery. Now, about 90% of his county has adopted no-till production practices.

Additionally, Beer hosts conservation days on his own farm and he attends field days in North and South Dakota throughout the year to share his experience with no-till production.

“No-till has been the biggest economic boost that has happened in this part of the state, probably ever,” Beer says. “The reason I say that is 20 years ago, it was only spring wheat and summer fallow, and that was it.

“Now, everyone has corn, sunflowers, spring wheat, winter wheat and now and then you see a field of soybeans. Everyone has semis and has had to put big grain bins up. All of the grain elevators have had to expand. But there hasn’t been much increase in land being farmed, the expansion has been due to diversification and higher yields. And, I believe that no-till has contributed to all that.”

Beer was inducted into the Outstanding Farmers of America Fraternity in 2009. He is also active in numerous organizations including the Corson County Soil Conservation District Board, South Dakota No-Till Association, among others. Additionally, Beer hosts field test plots and field days at his family farm.

Conservation Tillage and
Technology Conference — Organization

The Conservation Tillage Conference (CTC) began in the early 1980s as a ridge-till event led by an Ohio State University Extension educator in farm management.

Keeping up with conservation tillage practices, the conference evolved into a 2-day program, including no-till and strip-till topics, around 1990. Today, the agenda consists of about 60 speakers in concurrent sessions and draws crowds of more than 900 attendees from across 10 states, mainly Ohio, Indiana and Michigan.

CTC aims to educate attendees on all aspects of no-till, and emphasizes the importance of the system as a whole, including nutrient management, machinery, precision seeding, cover crops, soil and water quality and pest management.

“We have a large planning team, including about 20 Extension Educators and another 10 or so people from the Soil and Water Conservation District and NRCS,” says Randall Reeder, CTC president and retired Extension ag engineer for Ohio State University.

The group keeps a pulse on industry trends and incorporates new and relevant session topics.

“Close to half of attendees are certified crop advisors,” Reeder says. “We gear some of our content to provide certified crop advisors their necessary continuing education credits. But we know that content and our other topics are also important information for growers.”

The conference features educational content for all levels of agricultural expertise. It features highly scientific information, including session titles such as “Corn University,” “Soybean School” and “Big Data.”

Other topics include nutrient management, cover crops, soil and water quality, precision agriculture, planters and advanced scouting techniques. The session on cover crops is one of the most popular.

Proceeds from the conference are awarded as mini-grants to fund no-till Extension and research projects, which are then reported on at future conferences. Since 2004, CTC has funded $130,000 in mini-grants to Extension, growers and SWCD recipients, Reeder says.

“We’re wider than purely no-till although our goal is for farmers to succeed with continuous no-till,” Reeder says.

In addition to the concurrent education sessions, CTC offers space for about 30 exhibitor sponsors to share information on new products and technologies.

“It’s a very intense 2 days,” Reeder adds. “We bring together Midwest research and Extension specialists from universities, and exhibitors from private industry show their latest technologies and information. It’s where you get the latest information and have all the experts together.”

Joel Gruver — Research and Education

Joel Gruver grew up on a small diversified farm in north-central Maryland. He was first exposed to the benefits of no-till production while exploring fields on neighboring farms as a kid. He noticed that erosion was much more severe in fields that had been tilled.

Gruver’s Master’s research at the University of Maryland focused on relationships between farmer perceptions of soil health and management sensitive soil parameters. This project analyzed soil from long-term continuous no-till fields on farms and research stations in the Mid-Atlantic region as well interviewing many of the region’s pioneering no-tillers.

His PhD research at North Carolina State University concentrated on relationships between management, texture and soil organic matter fractions and included soil from some of the oldest continuous no-till plots in North Carolina.

Currently, Gruver is an assistant professor of soil science and sustainable agriculture in the School of Agriculture at Western Illinois University. He’s taught soil science and conservation classes since January 2007. His key focus is innovative teaching and outreach.

Gruver also manages the 77-acre Allison Organic Research and Demonstration Farm. The main goal of this farm is to evaluate innovative solutions to the challenges facing organic grain farmers, but a serious effort is made to conduct research that is relevant to a broader audience.

Each August, the farm hosts a field day that attracts people from both the organic and conventional farm communities. The 2014 theme was “Monitoring and Managing Crop Health and Quality” and included a panel discussion featuring successful organic grain farmers.

“My number one contribution to no-till has been breaking down complex science into practical, interesting and accessible ideas that resonate with farmers and students,” Gruver says. “I don’t really approach farmer meetings any differently than I approach teaching students.

“The information may be different, but the basic approach is to translate science into useful information and then share it with enthusiasm.”