Sometimes I read and hear anecdotes from some parts of North America where someone implies the conventional plow is making a comeback, due to problems with resistant weeds, disease or insect pressure or some other kind of system failure.
Although I never want to see that happen, it’s a reminder that no-till success doesn’t come over night and takes some effort — and sometimes, no-till alone isn’t enough to overcome every challenge.
So it’s nice to read a story where the opposite happens. Cody Cole, 30, and his wife, Noel, 29, told the Capital Press this month that they’re transforming their father’s farm near Soda Springs in southeastern Idaho from a monoculture wheat operation to one encompassing regenerative farming.
Last fall, Noel had an internship with Crop Production Services and discovered through scouting trips there was a lack of diversity in rotations in their area, deteriorating soil health and overly disturbed soils that were contributing to disease pressure. On her farm they had been battling stripe rust in wheat and were using more and more fungicides, the Capital Press says.
Her husband was ready to buy a conventional plow last fall, but after watching videos about soil health and visiting with some local farmers who were no-tilling and seeding cover crops, he bought a no-till drill instead. Now the Coles are planning to add other crops like sunflower, safflower, mustard, faba beans and dry lentils as new cash crops rather than relying on wheat and barley.
They’ve also built paddocks and fencing and allowed friends’ cows to graze on a 10-acre field of cover crops as they experiment and design a system that works for their farm, the Capital Press says. They also seeded covers in commercial fields and have already seen benefits in cooler soils and moisture savings in cover crop strips.
In our Dryland No-Tiller feature story this week, you’ll find Alan Mindemann, a longtime no-tiller from southwestern Oklahoma, took a similar journey when he converted his family’s farm to no-till practices 22 years ago. He raises specialty crops that most other farmers in his area won’t touch, and he’s even coaxed respectable yields from corn and soybeans in farm country where that’s almost never done.
I think this shows what can happen when growers take a step back, look at the big picture and step out of their comfort zone into a scenario with new possibilities instead of old paradigms.