WATCHING SOME OF the best soils we owned wash away in a big storm accelerated my family’s move to 100% no-till. My father, James, had tried no-tilling in the late 1960s, starting with soybeans behind the small amount of wheat we grew at that point.
Some of the soils I helped farm as a child in southwestern North Dakota are probably somewhere in South Dakota now. I grew up in the era of wheat and summer fallow. A lot of the ground around here is very sandy and marginal. Did it ever blow when we were tilling. I remember as a kid getting sent with a disc or a drag to try and make it stop blowing. It seemed so futile, and it was.
WHEN WE STEP into our office, soil conservation posters serve to remind us why we do the things we do on our farm. Our soils need to be protected and nourished to keep waterways healthy and the nation’s food supply sustainable.
We’re not farmers, ranchers or loggers — we’re resource managers. That’s one of many mindset shifts our family has made as we transition from generation to generation farming wildly varying terrain near Lewiston, Idaho.
I'm not sure anyone has changed their stance on no-till more than me. As the agronomy manager of Caledonia Farmers Elevator in Michigan, the farmers I advised always looked to me for the solutions to their problems. When the early innovator farmers I worked with started attempting no-till, I watched a lot of failures and I didn’t have any good answers at the time.
Mistakes have led to more than one production practice that has paid off on our farm. Replanting hailed out crops resulted in our current twin-row planting strategy and a load of fertilizer I couldn’t send back helped us achieve soybean crops capable of winning yield contests. In fact, in three out of the last five years I’ve had the highest yields for the local Pioneer yield contest and one of those years I won the territory. No-till wasn’t an accident, but some unintended lessons helped prove it was the right fit for our farm.
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