Cavadini suggests that no-till and cover crops may negate the need to invest in tile, and Oberholtzer agrees. When 5 inches of rain fell this past September, Cavadini recalls sinking to his ankles in conventionally tilled fields two days later, while being able to chop corn silage in a no-till field across the road.

“Normally, an inch of rain delays field work for a week in this area,” he says. “We’ve had a few cases where after even one year of no-till, we see major benefits in soil health and water infiltration.”

Oberholtzer is excited at similar benefits he has seen with no-till. He hopes to see more as he adds cover crops, such as more beneficial and timely manure applications. “Manure management is critical, and there is no better time to apply than on a growing crop,” says Oberholtzer. “My goal is to apply all our manure on a growing cover crop in the fall and then stay off in the spring. We aren’t there yet.”

Finding right cover crops

Like his initial attempts at no-till, making cover crops work with such a short post-harvest period before freeze-up has had mixed success. Rye planted in fall 2014 didn’t do well, but Oberholtzer blames his own half-hearted attempt with it. He has higher hopes for triticale planted after cutting corn for silage this past fall.

“I hope to make feed out of it late spring and then follow with soybeans,” he says. “I would like to get three crops in two years with a good rotation.”

Making any new practice in an area work is challenging, notes Oberholtzer. He hopes Cavadini’s efforts will make a difference. “We’ve helped Jason get his planter set up so he can document no-till benefits on the research farm. With depressed crop and milk prices, we are seeing more interest as a way to save money with less fuel. However, we have to be able to show a good yield, like we had this past year. It was our best crop ever.”

In his no-till and cover crop program, Cavadini isn’t necessarily shooting for publishable data. “The farmers I work with don’t care about that,” he says. “They just want to be able to walk through fields or plots and observe no-till benefits with their own eyes.”

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