TRIPLE BONUS. Terry’s sheep fit nicely in his program: they utilize his cover crops while providing and distributing natural fertilizer for greater soil health, provide another income through wool, and due to their special genetic makeup, are aiding research to help treat/cure Huntington’s Disease. Photo By: Joe Dickie for USDA NRCS SD.

Focus on No-Till, Soil Health Puts Farm Problems Out to Pasture

Veteran no-tiller Terry Ness has found a focus on soil health and diverse rotations can mean reduced inputs and security in the face of weather, insects, weeds and disease.

My soils were on the verge of giving out on me when I finally made the switch to no-till. I’m a first-generation farmer. The acres I took on had all been farmed for probably 60 years and were severely degraded from intensive tillage. I didn’t know any different when I started, so I copied the system used by those who farmed before me and kept pushing my soils ever closer to their breaking point. Those days are long behind me now and my soils have made a tremendous comeback.

I was 21 when I started farming in 1976. Normal practices in the area were to leave ½-to-⅓ of your acres in summer fallow each year. Soil organic matter (SOM) was around 1.5% on average. For 14 years, I followed the crowd doing tillage and summer fallow. It just didn’t feel right, though. I did try to minimize tillage right from the start as opposed to the intensively tilled operations that surrounded me. I couldn’t tell you why, but I was never comfortable with all the tillage. It didn’t feel right. I knew there had to be a better way.

The whole idea of summer fallow was that it would conserve moisture, but observation told me it didn’t get the job done. The only thing tillage was doing was breaking down more SOM to generate a nitrogen (N) release. That works for quite a while, but when you get down to 1% SOM it stops working and we were fast approaching…

To view the content, please subscribe or login.
 Premium content is for our Digital-only and Premium subscribers. A Print-only subscription doesn't qualify. Please purchase/upgrade a subscription with the Digital product to get access to all No-Till Farmer content and archives online. Learn more about the different versions and what is included.

Martha mintz new

Martha Mintz

Since 2011, Martha has authored the highly popular “What I’ve Learned About No-Till” series that has appeared in every issue of No-Till Farmer since August of 2002.

Growing up on a cattle ranch in southeastern Montana, Martha is a talented ag writer and photographer who lives with her family in Billings, Montana.

Top Articles

Current Issue


No-Till Farmer

Get full access NOW to the most comprehensive, powerful and easy-to-use online resource for no-tillage practices. Just one good idea will pay for your subscription hundreds of times over.

Subscribe Now

View More

Must Read Free Eguides

Download these helpful knowledge building tools

View More
Top Directory Listings