Three editors at No-Till Farmer hit the road last week to make eight farm visits in Pennsylvania and Maryland over the course of just 3 days. We were reminded again why no-tillers are some of the most innovative and persistent growers you’ll ever find.
In spite of very steep slopes and hills, highly variable soils with limestone, rocks, clay and other issues — and the constant oversight of the EPA due to concerns with nutrient loading in the Chesapeake Bay — no-tillers in this ecologically sensitive region are racking up successes.
Longtime no-tiller David Wolfskill took time out of his busy day to share with staff writer Laura Allen, web editor Cole Vandermause and myself about how one of his fields reached 307.37 bushels an acre last year, good for 2nd place in the 2013 National Corn Growers Association’s yield contest for Class A, non-irrigated no-till operations. Wolfskill won Pennsylvania’s contest with 318.81 bushels.
We’ll share more soon on how Wolfskill got to 300-bushel corn in Berks County, Pa., but he credits no-till soil health, dairy manure, in-furrow insecticide treatments and impregnating seed corn with Stoller USA’s Bio-Forge — a patented formulation diformyl urea — as pieces of the puzzle.
Wolfskill, who’s raising 1,800 acres of corn, soybeans, barley and alfalfa this year, has no-tilled since the late 1980s. Soil-organic matter levels have climbed from around 3% three decades ago to 5% to 6%, and the cation-exchange capacities in some fields have reached 18.5.
Wolfskill says the biggest challenge he had early on was getting rid of the mindset that farm ground must be tilled. While he’s learned that lesson, many other farmers haven’t been converted, yet.
“I tell people all the time that if no-till doesn’t work right, the planter didn’t fail — you failed. The planter is only going to do what you tell it to do,” Wolfskill says. “The biggest challenge is teaching yourself to do it right.
“I go to meetings and give talks, and if someone comes up to me and says ‘No-till won’t work on my farm,’ I’ll look at them and say ‘Why not?’ It just spins them around and they’ll say, ‘Well, it just won’t work,” and sometimes they start stuttering. I had one guy say that to me three times, and after I kept asking, ‘Why?,’ he finally got frustrated and walked away. It’s a mindset.”