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No-Tilling When No-Till Wasn't Cool

No-Tilling When No-Till Wasn't Cool
This family traces start of no-till efforts back to 1960s.

Some people are ahead of their time. Bob Robison is one of those people. Working full-time off-the-farm, he began buying farmland at scattered locations in Indiana in the 1960s. His home base is near Greenwood, Ind. With five boys in the family, he had a labor force. But he figured the only way to get his crops planted was to no-till. The only problem was it was the late '60s, not 2013, and no-till was in its infancy. It had been tried by a few researchers and farmers, but the inability to control weeds and get good seed-to-soil contact were primitive compared to today.

Long road: Don Robison, far right, says his family began experimenting with no-till in the 1960s.

Nevertheless, as one of his sons, Don, tells it, his dad persevered. Today Don and brother Dave maintain the farm near Greenwood in no-till. Don recently transferred from a long career at Cisco to Beck's Hybrids, working with large farming operations. Dave works for Legacy Seeds.

"Dad bought two Allis-Chalmers no-till planters in Texas and brought them up there," he says. "They were eight-rows, and almost nobody ran an eight-row then. So we cut it down to a four-row, and used one as parts for the other."

The old orange Allis-Chalmers planters were used by many bleeding edge and innovative no-tillers because they had two-inch, wavy coulters that could clear a seedbed, even running through rough material.

"We made a lot of mistakes early," Don says. "People laughed at us, but we kept going. We actually mowed weeds between the rows sometimes in no-till fields. That's where the help of five boys came in handy."

The Robisons were one of the first in Indiana to buy a four-row John Deere conservation planter. Today, they have someone custom plant and custom harvest their crops. The custom planting must be no-till. Many times, they're planting into no-till cover crops.

Few people are laughing now.

"We've got good planting tools and can control weeds today and burn down cover crops," he says. "That makes all the difference in the world."

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