Small Start, Big Success with No-Tilling

A minor victory in a small field grew to major success farmwide for Bob Kissel, as no-till practices have reduced erosion and improved soil tilth and nutrient cycling on his central Indiana operation.

Bob Kissel remembers the moment he decided to start no-tilling his crops: it was 30 years ago as he was custom harvesting a 20-acre field intensively farmed with soybeans and worked with plows every year.

“The erosion was so bad you just couldn’t keep dirt in the field,” Kissel recalls. He rented it in late May the next year and started no-tilling corn there the following year.

“We planted into powder, basically, and we still got excellent stands,” he says, noting the field has slopes of 7-10%.

He earned 150-bushel corn that year, which wasn’t bad for the condition of the field and corn yields at the time. With three decades of no-till, along with manure applications from his former hog farm and cover crop seeding, he’s increased soil organic matter on that field by 1.3 points, and the gullies he used to fight are gone.



  • Pay close attention to soil-test nutrient levels and pH when applying sludge, gypsum or other materials to the soil. Monitor for problems.
  • A focus on improving soil tilth and soil organic matter can raise yields, too — it’s not just about reducing input expenses.
  • Cereal rye is a tough cover crop — even if it’s seeded in December it may still sprout

It’s a microcosm of what Kissel has seen overall on his 1,110-acre operation near New Palestine in central Indiana, where he no-tills corn, soybeans and soft red winter wheat. Saving soil and improving fertilizer use helped him eclipse 200-bushel corn…

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John dobberstein2

John Dobberstein

John Dobberstein was senior editor of No-Till Farmer magazine and the e-newsletter Dryland No-TillerHe previously covered agriculture for the Tulsa World and worked for daily newspapers in Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Joseph, Mich. He graduated with a B.A. in journalism and political science from Central Michigan University.

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