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I've served in township government for a quarter century. One never-ending task and expense is cleaning silt from road ditches and culverts — the product of field erosion — and putting it back where it belongs. Seeing this year after year got me thinking about why the soil was there, what the impact was on us, as farmers, and our community, and what I could do on my farm to lessen the problem.
I observed that the erosion issues were significantly less in areas where there was pasture or forage crops. The bulk of silt entering our drainages seemed to come from row crop fields. Upon closer observation, moldboard plowing seemed to be the worst culprit, leading to considerable erosion with rain events. Deep ripping seemed a little better, but not disturbing the soil seemed the best option of all. I had a Kinze planter already capable of no-till planting, so in 2003 I started no-tilling corn into soybean and small grain ground because it was mellow and easy.
We’ve since gone 100% no-till and beyond — integrating cover crops and grazing — much to our benefit and the benefit of our community. My only regret is I didn’t have the knowledge I have today back when I left the service and started farming in 1975. I unknowingly lost thousands of dollars in profits over the years doing heavy tillage. If I could go back and start with no-till, cover crops, and grazing livestock I would be so much further…