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Reaching Beyond Equipment, Irrigation for No-Till Success

Cover crops, pollinator strips and compost are among the tools Kelly Kettner uses to improve organic matter and stretch irrigation resources on his 5,000-acre operation in the Texas Panhandle.


Pictured Above: BUILDING SOILS. Kelly Kettner makes the application of composted cattle manure an important part of his soil building and no-till efforts in Muleshoe, Texas. Here compost is applied to a field of dead cover that included forage sorghum and millet as ground cover. Kettner says compost adds nutrients to the soil that help create organic matter

When Muleshoe, Texas, farmer Kelly Kettner decided to try no-tilling back in 2005, he expected success would depend on the equipment he used.

But more than a decade later, Kettner finds no-tilling isn’t so much about equipment as “important stuff” like soil microbes, cover crops and planning rotations.

No-tilling makes all the difference for Kettner in storing soil moisture as dwindling irrigation resources give way to dryland farming in the western Texas Panhandle.

Building a System

A native of Mason in the Texas Edwards Plateau, Kettner grew up raising peanuts on sandy soil and tending cattle. While attending Texas Tech University in Lubbock, majoring in agronomy and working for a renowned agronomy professor and cotton expert, the late Dan Krieg, he fell in love with the High Plains and raising cotton.

After graduation he returned to farm with his dad in Mason for 6 years before coming back to the High Plains in 2002, looking for land to farm. He found a couple of small tracts, one with a lateral-move sprinkler and another “oddball” farm with a center-pivot sprinkler that irrigated only 100 acres.

Both sellers soon rented him all their land…

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