Four Keys to Successfully No-Tilling Tough, Wet Soils

Ross Bishop describes how avoiding tillage, getting more aggressive with fertility, seeding cover crops and making equipment modifications have helped him grow higher yields in a challenging environment.

Ask Ross Bishop to describe his 21-year experience with no-till and he will sum it up for you in four words:

  • Challenges.
  • Adaptations.
  • Changes.
  • Modifications.
  • The Jackson, Wis., no-tiller says these four time-tested concepts have helped him deal with some unusual farming situations in his operation that’s located 18 miles west of Lake Michigan and 20 miles north of Milwaukee.

Besides being surrounded by suburban homeowners, he has to deal with wet fields and multiple tricky soil types that include a lack of topsoil over bedrock. These bedrock soils are lithified rock that can break off and lead to stone-filled fields.

On top of that, he’s spent 4 years battling water pollution concerns from a petroleum product pipeline leak near his property that dumped 22,000 gallons of fuel into the soil. With 37 contaminated private wells ordered abandoned by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Bishop has had to truck in water for both personal use and for his beef cattle for a long time.

Bishop started farming in the area in 1982 when he managed a 300-acre conventionally-tilled operation and fed 400 steers each year for a local landowner.

“The rocks were awful with these bedrock soils,” he recalls. “I would plow a 10-acre field, work it twice with tillage and then three of us would spend a full day picking up rocks before being able to plant corn.”

In addition, tons of valuable soil was running off the farm when huge gully washes occurred. That’s when he decided…

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Frank Lessiter

Frank Lessiter has served as editor of No-Till Farmer since the publication was launched in November of 1972. Raised on a six-generation Michigan Centennial Farm, he has spent his entire career in agricultural journalism. Lessiter is a dairy science graduate from Michigan State University.

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