No-Till, Cover Crops Improve Feed Quality, Limit Erosion and Build Soil Health

Reducing sediment and phosphorus runoff, improving soil health and reducing operational risk are goals for no-till dairy farmer Dan Brick.

Pictured Above: COVERING GROUND. Brickstead Dairy near Green Bay, Wis., practices 100% no-till and 100% cover crops on the farm’s 900 acres. This is a three-way mix of barley, radishes and winter rye

Managing a dairy farm that traces its roots back 170 years isn’t out of the ordinary for Greenleaf, Wis., no-tiller Dan Brick. The fact that Brickstead Dairy is Wisconsin’s 2017 Leopold Conservation Award recipient, however, is a fairly recent development.

Around 2009, Brick decided to convert to a reduced-tillage system by incorporating cover crops, but the results weren’t ideal.

Brick was still seeing huge losses of both sediment and nutrients during that time. The washouts on the Kewaunee silt loam soils were especially brutal on those fields planted with alfalfa, he says.

“We were spending all this money for cover crops and still doing tillage, so we didn’t see the cost benefit,” he says. “The numbers were not coming out.

“Our current land base was too small to justify very expensive equipment. So we invested anything that we had into planters, got rid of all the tillage equipment 3 years ago and switched everything to 100% no-till and 100% cover crops.”


REDUCE RISK. Dan Brick, owner of Brickstead Dairy, believes no-till farming using cover crops is a best-case scenario for risk avoidance. He reduces input costs, prevents sediment loss and produces healthier feed for his milking cows.

Brick, who started farming with his Dad after graduating from high school in 1992, became part of a traditional 50-cow…

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Mark mcneely1

Mark McNeely

Mark McNeely is the former managing editor of No-Till Farmer and Conservation Tillage Guide magazines. His previous experience includes 25 years in industrial engine journalism and marketing. Mark holds an M.A. in journalism from the University of Wisconsin.

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