When it comes to acquiring new land, the Rulon family at Arcadia, Ind., follows an intensive 3-year plan to make the switch to no-till. Roy, Ken and Rodney have been 100% no-till for nearly 25 years and rely on cover crops to improve soil fertility, efficiently manage soil nutrients, reduce erosion and increase organic matter. 

At the recent Iowa Cover Crops Conference, Ken Rulon said the farm’s 3-year program for no-tilling new ground is expensive, but one that quickly capitalizes on the many benefits of no-tilling. 

“We want to eliminate tillage and improve the ground as quickly as possible,” Rulon says. “Right away, we want to get the ground pattern tiled and eliminate any compaction and fertility concerns.”

Year One

To get started, the Rulons take eight soil-sample probes from each 1-acre grid to get a head start on meeting fertility needs. They also create a topographic map for each field and develop a tiling plan to effectively manage surface water. Where needed, waterways are installed using cost-share funds from the NRCS.

Based on soil test results, a portion of the prescribed lime and gypsum is applied after harvest and they rip the ground with an Unverferth Zone-Builder subsoiler.

Phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) are applied in early spring, along with 2 tons per acre of chicken manure. “Many of these newly managed fields have depleted soils, so the chicken manure helps improve the biological activity,” Rulon says. The field is then no-tilled to an early maturing corn, along with the application of 28% starter fertilizer that includes ammonium sulfate.

Year Two

The Rulons aerial seed cereal rye in late August at 150% of the recommended rate. They harvest corn early to help the cover crop get off to a fast start and apply 30 pounds of nitrogen (N) per acre to help decompose the corn stalks. 

Lime and gypsum are again applied in the fall as the Rulons split the recommended rates over several years. This is followed by injecting 5,000 gallons per acre of hog manure into the rye cover.

The following spring, they no-till an early maturing soybean variety. If the ground is extremely hard, a rotary hoe may be used to smooth out the fields and get the soybean crop off to a fast start.

Year Three

No-till soybeans are harvested early followed by leveling the tile and any other irregular surfaces. Next, they seed an oat, radish and clover cover crop mix at 150% of the recommended rate. A soil additive is used to improve the soil’s biological activity.

The following spring, they no-till a stress-tolerant corn hybrid and again add ammonium sulfate with the 28% starter fertilizer. They sidedress N with variable-rate technology based on yield goals.

Gathering plenty of crop data, variable-rate application is used to avoid over applying fertilizer on low-yielding ground. In some areas, this means only applying 95 pounds of N instead of the typical 200 pounds per acre to improve efficiency.