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1st-time no-tillers: Don’t be afraid to fail

Hoosier Perspectives: Consider this basketball analogy and give it your best shot this spring.

Tom J. Bechman

February 12, 2024

3 Min Read
A red tractor and green planter planting into green cover crops
NOT READY FOR THIS? Veteran no-tillers don’t recommend planting green to someone who hasn’t no-tilled before. However, there are other options for getting started in reduced tillage. Photos by Tom J. Bechman

A panel of veteran no-tillers spent a long time debating this question. Why don’t more people make the shift to no-till and cover crops? Yes, there are challenges, but the list of tangible benefits is nearly endless.

Still, many people don’t change. Many don’t even try, even if they see it working on a neighbor’s farm. If you are one yet to try, don’t stop reading.

Afraid to try?

For some, perhaps it is fear of failure. They don’t want to risk ending up with a field they’re not proud of, especially if it’s where neighbors can see it. That’s OK, test it out in the back 40. Who cares where you try as long as you try?

How did I arrive at this great revelation? Watching a Big Ten basketball game! It was Illinois vs. Northwestern, Jan. 24, in Evanston, Ill. The Fighting Illini nearly ran Northwestern out of the State Farm Center in Champaign, Ill., two weeks earlier. But on this night, the Wildcats won in overtime. In crunch time, their star guard, Boo Buie, took over the game, driving to the basket, hitting 3-pointers, dishing to others, making key stops.

After the game, Robbie Hummel, former Purdue star and now Big Ten Network analyst, asked Buie’s coach, Doug Collins, “What sets him apart and allows him to shine in big moments?”

“He is not afraid to make the big plays,” Collins said. “He wants the ball in those situations. Sometimes he makes it, sometimes he doesn’t, but he is never afraid to try.”

Related:What holds back no-till, cover crop adoption?

Not afraid to try and fail. Translate that to farming, especially no-till. For the farmers who are deep in soil health systems now, many of them planting green, did everything work the first time? Ask them. I have never talked to a no-tiller who can’t remember many times when things didn’t turn out as he or she hoped. Instead of quitting, they learned and tried again.

A tractor planting into a no-till cornfield

Step out and try

Did Boo Buie play basketball like he does today during his freshman year? No, not even close. Those I know who succeed in soil health farming systems kept going because potential rewards outweighed the fear of failure.

I can relate. Did I succeed on my first farmer interview? No. My very first interviews were with two cattle farmers. It was so long ago, we used black-and-white film. When I got back to the office, I made a gut-wrenching discovery. I didn’t load the film correctly. No film on the spool, no pictures. So, I had to call each farmer again and retake pictures. Talk about embarrassing!

That didn’t stop me. Don’t let fear of failure stop you from trying reduced tillage. What have you got to lose besides pride? You might just discover why some people are so adamant about soil health and conservation farming.

Read more about:

No till

About the Author(s)

Tom J. Bechman

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer, Farm Progress

Tom J. Bechman is editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer. He joined Farm Progress in 1981 as a field editor, first writing stories to help farmers adjust to a difficult harvest after a tough weather year. His goal today is the same — writing stories that help farmers adjust to a changing environment in a profitable manner.

Bechman knows about Indiana agriculture because he grew up on a small dairy farm and worked with young farmers as a vocational agriculture teacher and FFA advisor before joining Farm Progress. He works closely with Purdue University specialists, Indiana Farm Bureau and commodity groups to cover cutting-edge issues affecting farmers. He specializes in writing crop stories with a focus on obtaining the highest and most economical yields possible.

Tom and his wife, Carla, have four children: Allison, Ashley, Daniel and Kayla, plus eight grandchildren. They raise produce for the food pantry and house 4-H animals for the grandkids on their small acreage near Franklin, Ind.

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