No-Till, Cover Crops No Problem for Northern Climate

After the Willfords were told they’d be back to conventional tillage after a couple of years, the Minnesota family is proving no-till and cover crops have a permanent place on their farm

No-till isn't a common practice in Minnesota, but one operation is proving it can work.

Travis Willford and his father, Arden, are no-tilling their 330-plus acres of corn, soybeans and hay in Harmony, Minn., located in the southeastern part of the state.

Despite their northern climate, the Willfords say they haven’t seen a yield hit in their 12 years of no-till, and erosion has almost come to a halt. Soil health is booming, and now they’re working to advance their operation another step by adding cover crops.

Decades of Conservation.

The Willfords’ journey to no-till began in 1959, when Arden began farming right after high school. He had a conservation plan that included terraces and contour farming, which Travis says they still maintain.

“Over the years we had to plow to build the terraces up,” Travis says. “But since we quit doing that, they’re maintaining themselves. They’re not eroding or washing or anything like that.”

After the adoption of terraces and contours came chisel plowing in the 1980s and 1990s. The reduction in tillage helped reduce the amount of erosion they usually saw, but it wasn’t enough. In 2003, 7 years after Travis joined his father on the farm, they decided to make the leap to no-till.

The push point came in 2001, when they had three 8-inch rainfalls within 2 weeks.

“We had a lot of washing,” Travis recalls. “It made it miserable to combine that fall.”

The Willfords had never tried no-till before because there were a lot…

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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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