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What I've Learned From No-Tilling: 30 Years Of Cover Crops Anchor No-Till System

Sharp increases in organic matter and vasity reduced fertilizer cost are just a couple of the benefits that David Brandt has realized on his Ohio farm.

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NAME: David Brandt

LOCATION: Carroll, Ohio

YEARS NO-TILLING: 37

ACRES NO-TILLED: 900

CROPS NO-TILLED: CORN, SOYBEANS, WHEAT, ALFALFA, COVER CROPS (CEREAL RYE, AUSTRIAN WINTER PEAS, OILSEED RADISHES, SUNFLOWERS, SOYBEANS, HAIRY VETCH)

When I planted my first cover crop — cereal rye — in 1978 to control erosion on poorly drained, hilly clay soils, I had no idea what the full ramifications of that decision would be. Since then, cover crops have become the anchor of a diverse crop rotation in our continuous no-till system.

We credit several cover crops, most of them legumes, with amazing increases in organic matter, sharply reduced fertilizer costs, elimination of soil compaction, mellower soils and deeper water infiltration.

Our goal is to keep something of value growing on the soil surface for as many months as possible. The overall result has been better-than-average yields in years of bad weather and superior harvests in favorable growing seasons. Organic matter content has increased from 0.5% to 3%, even on our steeper 18% slopes.

EARLY LEARNING CURVE

Like many successful cropping systems, it took awhile to simultaneously make the physical — and mental — shift to continuous no-till and search around the country to find the best cover crops for our farm.

Chevron Chemical Co. provided an economical way to test cover crops in the early no-till years. Chevron marketed a program at that time to promote the company’s paraquat herbicide (Gramoxone).

Their plan called for planting a cereal rye cover after soybean harvest. In…

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David Brandt

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Ron Ross

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