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The 1980s were difficult times for farmers, and it was no different for Mike Shuter and his family. Hoping to make due with less, they looked to no-till to reduce fuel, labor and expenses, with the hope of maintaining yields.
“We eliminated the field cultivators, plows and the big-horsepower tractors, and we committed to making no-till work,” he says.
Today, Shuter Sunset Farms near Frankton, Ind., is a thriving fourth-generation operation where Mike and his sons Brian and Patrick raise 3,000 acres of strip-tilled corn and no-tilled soybeans, along with Red Poll and Red Angus beef cattle and hogs.
Even though the Shuters are long-term no-tillers and strip-tillers, they’re taking steps to improve soil health by seeding cover crops into standing corn and soybeans.
Having watched other farmers use cover crops for a few years, the Shuters added covers to their own farm 3 years ago to build better soil structure, improve nutrient-use efficiency and reduce nitrogen costs. Their goal is to have healthier soils that stand up to the effects of drenching rains or drought.
Mike has already seen a big payoff in terms of soil structure and water infiltration by reducing tillage and seeding cover crops. He’s sometimes out shelling corn a day or two earlier than his conventional-tillage neighbors due to better ground conditions. Some problem fields are becoming more productive, too, with little tillage.
“We had one strip-tilled field this past spring where we had cover crops and didn’t have a dead spot in the field,”…