HARVEST HURDLES. In the low spots on Don Thurston’s farm, the soybean crop was a little later to mature than in the higher, drier areas. Here, Thurston clears a jam in the combine header before continuing his harvest.

Prevented Planting Acres Turn Into an Unexpected No-Till Opportunity

Being in the right place at the right time — with the right mindset and cover crop mix — transformed a soggy spring situation into a new enterprise for Indiana no-tiller Don Thurston.

Don Thurston grew up on a farm, but by the time he took up the practice as a young man, his father, Herb, who had farmed from the 1930s until 1978, had already retired and sold his equipment. 

Though Herb hadn’t been a no-tiller, he had always kept an eye out for opportunities to improve or streamline operations. In the 1960s, he actually bought one of the first chisel plows in the area. For the time, this was a relatively progressive move.

“It’s hard to imagine now, but at the time, people weren’t sure if the chisel plow would work,” says Thurston. “The conventional wisdom of the day was to moldboard plow and bury all the residue and weed seeds.”

Thurston says his father’s curious mindset — and patient guidance — really helped shape the practical, economically sustainable approach he takes to operating his Fountain City, Ind., no-till farm.

Ridge-Till Transition

Thurston’s father was especially interested in the practices of local farmer, John T. Alexander, who was purported to be the first to ridge-till east of the Mississippi.

Over the years, Thurston picked up more land, both owned and rented. In fact, some of the ground he farms today used to belong to Alexander and as such, has had very little tillage since about 1968.

But Thurston started small, with about 400 acres, and took a lot of advice from his dad. He didn’t have a lot of capital back in the early 1980s, so at his father’s suggestion, he…

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Julia Gerlach

Julia Gerlach is Executive Editor of No-Till Farmer. She has a lengthy background in publishing and a longtime interest in gardening and mycology. She graduated with a B.A. in music and philosophy from Alverno College in Milwaukee, Wis.

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