Tilling refers to the preparation and cultivation of land for agricultural purposes. Both tillage and a lack of residue left on the surface leave bare soils that are easily eroded. Tillage can also destroy soil structure, decrease water infiltration and increase the likelihood of soil runoff.

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Photo by Douglas Gayeton


Location: John's Field, Haxturn, CO
Featuring: John Heerman

Dryland farmers in the high plains like John Heerman build healthy soil by using no till practices and growing a diversity of plants, including cover crops.

While the typical wheat-fallow farming practices in this region result in one crop every two years, a new breed of dryland farmers experiments by growing a diverse mix of crops throughout the year. Instead of rotating between wheat and fallow, John incorporates cover crops into his rotation. They include kale, forage collards, grazing corn, cow peas, soybeans and vetch. When coupled with no-till practices, these farmers see benefits from a healthier soil ecosystem, one that captures and retains water, suppresses disease and pests, cycles nutrients, improves soil structure, and filters pollutants. Meanwhile, John’s neighbor tills his soil to control weeds, then leaves his soil bare for 14 months after each wheat harvest to recharge it’s store of water (absence of living plants in the soil means less for soil organisms to feed on).

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