A wise person once said, "It's not right or wrong, it's just different." That saying might apply to two farmers, one who believes in conventional tillage, and one who would rather no-till and use cover crops.
There's no right or wrong answer as to which is the best – they are just different approaches to the same goal: raising corps profitably.
Clint Arnholt and his parents, Dan and Susan, have chosen no-till and about nine years ago, added cover corps to the mix. They have seen improvements in soil health. Some define soil health as an increase in biological activity in the soil.
Recently Ray Weil, a professor and soil health guru from the University of Maryland, visited their farm for a soil health workshop. He enjoyed jumping in the soil pit Clint dug and checking out soil health.
"OK, I'm still finding corn roots down here," he would tell the crowd, picking at roots half way down the profile. He kept going.
"They're even down here almost all the way to the bottom," he says. "What really does the work are the fine roots – the ones that you can't even see by just looking."
Dena Anderson, a soil scientist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, used golf tees to mark characteristics in the soil. She inserted a set of tees running horizontally about four inches below the surface, and another set below that, about 11 to 12 inches below the surface.
"Soil above the top white dotted line represents what the Arnholts have been able to do since they shifted to no-till and cover crops," Weil says. The original surface was about where the top white line is located.
Related: How to do tillage the right way
"The bottom white line indicates the old plow pan, or tillage layer, which still is evident today. Roots go through it, but even after more than 20 years of no-till, it is not completely gone. You can still find it."