Michael Thompson

Diversified Crops and Grazing Cattle Provide No-Till Benefits

Northwest Kansas no-tiller says his soil building and nutrient cycling didn’t start until he added livestock to his diversified farming operation. He credits grazing and cover crops for erosion control and yield increases.

When Michael Thompson was 18 he envisioned himself joining his parents in their farming operation in northwestern Kansas and becoming a dedicated, 100% cash grain farmer. However, life and generations of conventional farming got in the way.

“I was all fired up that I was going to be a farmer. I was going to graduate high school, take some ag classes and come back to the farm,” he explains. “In 1997 I had the mindset that I hated cattle, saw no need for them, and I wanted to farm every acre of our land.”

Speaking to a gathering of producers at the recent National No-Tillage Conference in Indianapolis, Thompson recalled the rude awakening he got when his parents sat him down and explained that the farm wasn’t profitable and there was no way he could make a living there. They told him nicely, “Don’t come back to the farm.”

He didn’t listen, but he understood that if he was to make his living farming near his homestead in Almena, Kans., four counties east of Colorado on the Nebraska state line, he’d have to do things differently than the three previous generations of his family had done.

“There were a lot of reasons farming wasn’t working for us in 1997,” Thompson explains. “Probably the number one thing was we had such a low water infiltration rate — half an inch per hour, tops!

“What rain we would get would run down our hilly fields into the ditch and disappear. Our fertility…

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