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What holds back no-till, cover crop adoption?

Farmers and other ag professionals share what they believe it will take for more operations to adopt no-till and cover crops.

Tom J. Bechman

February 12, 2024

3 Min Read
A panel of speakers on stage, pictured are: Tom, J. Bechman, Pat Karst, Ken Rulon, Alan Weber, Diana Rulon, Dan DeSutter and Brenda Sermersheim
SHARING IDEAS: The panel that addressed how to change attitudes about no-till and cover crops included (from left) moderator Tom J. Bechman, Pat Karst, Ken Rulon, Alan Weber, Diana Rulon, Dan DeSutter and Brenda Sermersheim. Lisa Holscher

Get 10, 100 or 1,000 farmers together who believe no-till and cover crops are the right way to farm. This question will come up: How can we get more people to change their attitudes about no-till and cover crops?

Is there a definitive answer? Probably not. But there are lots of opinions about why no-till and cover crops are one of the best-kept secrets in agriculture.

The following people addressed this question at a recent workshop: Ken Rulon, no-tiller, Hamilton County, Ind.; Pat Karst, vice president of Halderman Farm Management and Real Estate Services, Wabash, Ind.; Alan Weber, ag economist with the University of Missouri’s Center for Regenerative Agriculture and a farmer; Diana Rulon, Hamilton County no-tiller and liaison for the Indiana Smart Agriculture Work Group; Dan DeSutter, no-tiller, Attica, Ind.; and Brenda Sermersheim, no-tiller and ag lender in Dubois County, Ind.

Why don’t more people switch to no-till and cover crops?

Karst: Not everyone is open to it. Some people just will not do it. I believe it would be helpful to switch from talking about yields when comparing systems to talking about net income.

Ken Rulon: Changing culture with older people is nearly impossible. Some are happy with fall chiseling, and they know they can protect their income with crop insurance. If we want change, we must get to the kids. And we must tell them the truth. Be open about trade-offs between the systems. Talk about how weed control changes and how you can realize more money with no-till and cover crop systems.

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

Weber: Seeing is believing. You must show some people. I have told other people how I have fewer weeds by planting cereal rye or bale less hay because I graze cover crops. They act interested, but they won’t do it. They need to see it for themselves.

Diana Rulon: Many people no longer raise livestock, so more grazing opportunities will not interest everyone. Talk about the benefit that will interest them most. And Ken is right, we must get to the younger generation. Show them the economic advantages of these systems.

DeSutter: We’ve no-tilled for a long time, but we made the biggest change once I realized all three of our boys wanted to farm. We needed more income streams, and cover crops and grass-fed beef were part of the equation. That type of need motivates people.

Ken Rulon: I remember this saying: “The path to a farmer’s creativity is through his land base.” So, we must educate landowners. Show them the benefits of these systems to their land. Let them convince their tenants. If you’re a no-tiller and cover cropper, you will likely find it is beneficial to rent from educated landowners who understand why you do what you do.

Sermersheim: If you can prove to your ag lender that these systems make you a low-cost producer, they will be on your side. Encourage people to look at the bottom line when comparing systems. Doing well on the bottom line is what keeps the farm in the family.

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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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