Rethinking ‘Conventional’ Wisdom Leads to Revelations, 100% No-Till

Parking the plow helped John Macauley cut five passes across the field, save on fuel and labor and maintain yields as he builds a more sustainable operation.

Pictured Above: John Macauley (left) and his father, Jim, say their transition to 100% no-till with cover crops has improved soil health and resulted in savings on fuel, labor and equipment

Some farmers dive headlong into changing their tillage practices. John Macauley, who farms 1,200 acres with his father, Jim, in Groveland, N.Y., is proof that transitioning to no-till can be done in steps.

The Macauley farm had been conventionally tilled since the 1930s. Around 2005, the Macauleys decided to start moving away from full-width tillage, despite seeing neighbors run into slug and poor-emergence issues with no-till. 

To start, they bought an Unverferth Zone-Builder with strip-till baskets and a 15-foot John Deere 750 no-till drill. They ran side-by-side comparison tests with soybeans and wheat to see how no-tilling and strip-tilling strategies would affect yields and cost savings. 

“We started slow, because we knew there would be added costs to switching strategies. We found out right away there was no difference in yield between our previous conventional tillage, strip-till and no-till,” Macauley says. “We pushed forward with no-till, because as a two-man operation, we needed to save time and, in the future, inputs and resources.” 

With those promising results, Macauley started no-tilling corn and hay in 2011. It wasn’t long before he sold off all his tillage equipment and transitioned 100% over to no-till — although he kept the Zone-Builder, too. 

“Across the board, our yields were staying about the same, so we figured with nothing to lose — but a…

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Ian Gronau

Ian Gronau is a Contributing Editor for Lessiter Publications, with primary support responsibilities for Precision Farming Dealer, Strip-Till Strategies and the Strip-Till Farmer Website. He is a graduate of Chicago’s Columbia College and has been preparing content for magazines, websites and newspapers since 2009, and has been recognized with several awards.

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