Ohio conservation tillage conference: No-till was ‘a revolution on the land’

(Ohio Farmer Editor Tim White (left) congratulates Bill Richards (right) and Trent Watkins, two of the Master Farmer recipients at the annual conference. Check back for more CTTC coverage, including more awards and pictures).

ADA, Ohio — Long-time farmer and conservationist Bill Richards had just one problem with the Master Farmer plaque handed to him during the Conservation Tillage and Technology Conference Tuesday at Ohio Northern University.

On the plaque was the image of a plow.

For Richards and the majority of the 900 or so in attendance — it seemed “no-till” was by far the dominant topic on farmer’s minds and in their plans for spring planting.

Something new

Richards, of Circleville, was among the first farmers to give no-till a try in the 1960s. It was a big change in the way people farmed, he said, and took patience.

By 1966, he and a farm worker were farming about 1,000 acres of corn without plowing.

“No-till was teaching us that we could manage more acres with the same men and machines, and it was profitable,” Richards said during a panel discussion that featured no-till pioneers like Glover Triplett, Bill Haddad and Don Myers.

Richards said he envies modern no-till farmers, because the equipment and technology today is many times better than when he started no-till farming in the ’60s.

And, thanks to no-till, millions of previously unplanted acres have been brought into production and more mouths are being fed economically.

“We are showing the world that we can produce food and fuel by also improving and enhancing the environment,” he said. “We are making possible the development of millions of acres of new land to feed our hungry billions. It’s truly a revolution on the land.”

First research

The “revolution” arguably got its start with retired Ohio State University researcher Glover Triplett, who joined the panel via video connection at Mississippi State University, where he is an agronomist.

Triplett helped lead some of the first no-till research at Ohio State’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster, in 1960 — one year after the popular herbicide Atrazine was approved for use.

The goal was to get good stands and weed resistance. It took time and patience but Glover and his team never gave up.

“No-till represented a big change in the way things were going at the time,” he said. “We were looking at a system of practices and they all (had) to work for the thing to be successful.”

Even after 50 years of existence, Glover said no-till is still a “journey” and “not a destination,” because it’s still being perfected every year.

However, its benefits are seen every day in the form of reduced soil erosion, more acres being farmed, a lesser carbon footprint and greater efficiency.

Selling it to farmers

Bill Haddad, of Knox County, talked about his experiences working as salesman for Chevron Chemical Co., and now Valent. He was one of the first promoters of no-till farming and said farmers first thought the concept was ludicrous and lazy. But when they saw the results, more and more became believers.

“It was not easy,” he said, adding no-till was “a revolution in itself.”

He said it’s important to keep no-till alive, because it saves soil.

“We need to train people to promote it because its the only thing we’ve got to protect our soils for the long-haul,” he said. “Nobody’s making soils anymore.”

Around the conference

Other speakers made clear that no-till indeed is alive and well — and remains the answer for many of today’s crop farming challenges.

Jill Clapperton, a rhizosphere ecologist from Montana, talked about what it takes to have a healthy “rhizosphere” — the part of soil directly surrounding plant roots.

The rhizosphere is a very active area, she explained, with many chemical and biological forces acting on each other for the benefit, or detriment of the plant.

“The plant is stuck in one place; it can’t move so it has to attract things that it needs toward it — things that will keep it healthy,” she said.

She challenged farmers to pay attention to soil biodiversity and build healthy soils that are alive with beneficial organisms and nutrients.
“We’re not tweaking the system enough with no-till,” she said. “Think about your (soil) biology — use it!”

Natural systems

Clapperton said the key can sometimes be just leaving things alone, so the plants and soil can do what they’re designed to. Tillage, she said, often disturbs or even kills the life in soil.

“Tillage kills your earth worms and it kills your (ground) animals,” she said. “They’re building homes in your soil and every time we till it up we till up their homes.”

Farmers picked up additional no-till tips at sessions on new planting equipment, and the future of no-till as it relates to nutrient management.

The Midwest is blessed to have so many positive influences in no-till, said Randall Reeder, an event organizer and recently retired OSU Extension ag engineer.

“It’s been fantastic to have this kind of expertise continuing to be available to us here in Ohio and the Midwest,” he said.

About the Author

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties. More Stories by Chris Kick

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