Apple-Plum Watershed

Water Resource Management in Northwest Illinois, Northeast Iowa, Southwest Wisconsin

On a rainy June evening in Galena, a group of Jo Daviess farmers gathered on Mel Gratton’s farm to discuss no till practices. Mel’s family farm is fourth generation and they have been practicing no till for over 25 years. Joining Mel is Steve Ehler, another farmer in Galena who began no tilling in 1993. They both have had successes and failures with the practice, but overall see the widespread benefit of it. Throughout their presentation they offer vast amounts of excellent advice and reasons for no till, as well as sharing their own journey with the practice.

Mel and Steve’s first point of discussion was for those doing no till for the first time. Steve, the expert on machinery, made the point of making sure you have good blades that are heavy and sharp. Mel went on to list that on the farm you need to build up fertility, eliminate compaction and smooth unevenness. He also stressed the importance of committing to the process, because you will not see results right away. It takes until about the 3-4 year to see changes. He also described getting into the “right thinking”; he explained you need to believe it will be successful so that it will be. Finally, he shared being selective in your selection of crops. Choosing what is best for your farm is very important.

There are many important reasons for no till that Steve and Mel went over. The first and foremost being conservation and stewardship. Another important aspect of no till is erosion control. This practice also helps save soil, water, and nutrients. There are major economic benefits from savings on machines and fuel.

Unfortunately there are a few disadvantages to the no till practice. A farmer trying this must have a lot of patience, as mentioned previously to see results takes a few years. Some technical challenges include that weed control is chemical dependent and the soil is colder in the spring. Arguably the biggest challenge is the change in thinking that is required for becoming a no till farmer. However, Mel and Steve made it very clear that the benefits far outweigh the limited challenges that come with no till farming.

Mel wrapped up the discussion with a strong point on climate change. He insisted regardless of what you believe, things are changing and something must be done about it. He explained if we don’t start doing things differently there wouldn’t be farms left to work on. No till farming is an undeniable way to make a positive impact on the environment.