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Family takes advantage of no-till farming

Staff writer

Lewis Unruh started using no-till farming with his father in 1996 and he has watched the practice grow in popularity since then.

“It’s more than niche farming at this point,” he said. “In the mid-1990s was when it, all at once, became more practical.”

Lewis continues the practice on his farm near Peabody with the help of son Jason.

“Any time there are two different generations working in a business we bring perspective,” Jason said.

“One thing my grandpa and dad both instilled in me was the ground we have is the only land we have. They’re not making any more.”

No-till farming decreases how much soil washes away during flooding, Lewis said.

“When I was a kid, those places where the creek was over might have washed the dirt away as deep as we worked the ground,” he said. “Anything loose, could have been anywhere from three to five inches of dirt, would have washed away.”

The matter isn’t as simple as stopping tillage, and proper crop rotation is especially important since it introduces nutrients back into the soil, Lewis said.

“That’s why we went to no-till,” he said. “You keep the residue there to help out on erosion, and now our cover crops are cash crops.”

Tilling might have made more sense when their ancestors were working with topsoil, but Lewis said his goal now is to make the subsoil healthier.

“They worked with what they had, and we’re working with what we have,” Lewis said. “Fifty years from now, people might think what we’re doing is crazy.”

Still, Lewis doesn’t regard his methods as absolute because he sees them as situational differences from farmer to farmer.

“They might not do exactly what I do and it doesn’t work for them,” he said.

“Then I’d feel bad about leading somebody down the wrong path, but we think we’re on the right path and it works for us.”

The development of Roundup resistant crops in the mid-’90s aided the popularity of no-till methods, Lewis said.

“We played around with it a little before that, but we couldn’t put the whole system together,” he said. “We didn’t know how at that point.”

It also helped the Unruhs that they met with a crop consultant before making the switch and discussed details like which herbicides to use.

No-till has changed some of Lewis’ practices but winter remains a down time as long as the cover crop can form a base.

“One of my goals is that we drive across the field and can’t see the bare dirt because there’s enough residue or something growing there to cover it up,” he said. “It’s pretty hard to get to that point.”

Last modified Jan. 23, 2020

 

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