Make Marginal No-Till Acres More Profitable with Irrigation

A pioneering no-till family is ahead of the curve again in Kentucky by adding irrigation to boost production in sloping, poorer soils.

While buying or renting more acreage might be a worthy goal for farmers, John and Alex Young have a different take since their family added irrigation pivots to their farm near Herndon, Ky., over the last several years.

“In today’s marketing and land prices, improving your land will probably bring a better return on investment than buying land, if you have land or if your landlord will work with you,” John Young told attendees at the 2017 National No-Tillage Conference.

Young and his son, Alex, shared how irrigation has paid off on their farm, as well as considerations for no-tillers who may want to add irrigation to their management toolbox.

Tough Soils

John’s father, Harry, was ahead of the curve in 1962 when he no-tilled the first commercial plot of corn.

Irrigation isn’t a widespread practice in Kentucky, either, but the Youngs are using the practice to improve production on their highly variable soils, ranging from rich river bottoms to shallow and poorly drained Robertsville soils, from the deep, red clay of Pembroke and Crider to the shallow rocks found in Hammack Baxter soils on slopes and hilltops. They also deal with fragipans and limestone strata that restrict the subsurface flow of water.

The Youngs started irrigating in 2008, installing two towable pivots that covered four circles on a rented farm. They own the water, in a private lake, but the land owner has the pivots. They and their landlords have added 16 more to their system, sometimes buying new…

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John dobberstein2

John Dobberstein

John Dobberstein is senior editor of No-Till Farmer magazine and the e-newsletter Dryland No-TillerHe previously covered agriculture for the Tulsa World and worked for daily newspapers in Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Joseph, Mich. He graduated with a B.A. in journalism and political science from Central Michigan University.

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