No Till Notes - “20 Years of Education”

By Mark Watson, Panhandle No-Till Educator

I’ve been asked to speak at the No till On the Plains winter conference in Salina, Kansas again this year as well as the High Plains No Till winter conference in Burlington, Colorado. I’ve been asked to look back at over 20 years of no till crop production and discuss the evolution of my no till farming experience during this time.

My sister Janet also gave me a memory stick for my computer for Christmas this year. Janet scanned all my parent’s photos and slides over the past 60 years on this memory stick. I’ve been looking at these photos and reminiscing as well. 

One of the slides that I’ve added to my presentations shows me standing out in a winter wheat field at harvest time wearing short bib overalls and shoes. I would guess that I’m about a year and a half old. It’s really a cute slide of me and it shows that I’ve been “outstanding” in my fields for quite some time. Sorry about that but I couldn’t help myself!

Anyhow, looking back over my farming career it is truly amazing the changes that have evolved in production agriculture. I’ve come to the realization that I have been involved in production agriculture for over 40 years now. I’ve also realized that over half of my farming career has been without tillage.  

At the same time things haven’t changed that much. The goal of every producer is to still produce as much grain and forage as possible in the least costly manner. At the same time producers try to manage their natural resources in a manner that will conserve these resources for generations to come.

We’ve come a long way in agriculture during my somewhat brief time in the farming world. When I first really started working on the farm it was all open aired tractors and combines, a heavy reliance on tillage, and we grew strictly winter wheat in a winter wheat/ summer fallow rotation. Since that time with the invention of center pivots irrigated agriculture has really become a way of life in our community.

I received my degree in Agronomy from the University of Nebraska in 1977. About 10 years later we started looking at no till crop production practices. Since we adopted no till practices on our farm my education has continued. Adopting no till practices has been an interesting and rewarding experience. Through my education in no till I’ve met people from around the world and here at home who have given me valuable insight into the possibilities of no till crop production.

Adopting no till has also made me much more aware of our natural resources and how I can do a lot more with no till production practices to preserve these resources for coming generations. I’ve become much more aware of the soil that I work with and how to best manage this soil to improve the profitability of our operation. Improving soil health has become a driving force in our operation.

We began no till farming as a way to save fuel, labor, and time in our operation. I think most producers who adopt no till look at these savings as a reason to make the change in their farming practices. What I have learned since is that there is so much more to discover about no till crop production than simply saving fuel and labor.

Next week I’ll look at how much more there is to no till than I originally anticipated. On our farm, no till has become the best cropping practice for managing our resources in a responsible manner while at the same time remaining profitable. The fact that we are able to pass these resources and knowledge on to future generations is very gratifying. 

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