7 years ago this month, the no-till community lost one of its champions to cancer in Ohio, Ed Winkle, an extension educator at Ohio State University and crop consultant at the age of 65. Innovator of the Year in 1999, Ed also served as an advisor to the National No-Tillage Conference (NNTC), wrote several articles and authored a special report on growing the high-yield soybean that continues to sell on our Online Store.
Through our research into the 60th anniversary of no-tillage in 2022 (something Ed would have greatly appreciated), we found that the blogger’s prolific material on no-tillage is still accessible online. He started the daily blog on a challenge from his wife LuAnn in 2007 (admitting he didn’t know what a blog was at the time). But the “never short of something to say” that Winkle posted daily – and lived to see her blog rack up an incredible 3 million page views.
Even throughout his painful battle with cancer, Winkle wrote and taught until his death – on topics such as nutrient loss through erosion, wet acids and advice for young farmers.
Here’s what my dad, Frank, had to say when he announced his passing to staff and subscribers in April 2015. no-till farmer. Ed had a big heart for farmers trying to solve no-till problems, and he was always ready to offer advice or suggestions because he wanted farmers to succeed with no-till. Ed’s helpful spirit will be missed.
Now, thanks to the rediscovery of his blog, Ed is still giving us follow-up ideas that will help his colleagues no-till.
Here is a story about his early exposure to no-till…
My no-till experience (January 19, 2009)
By Ed Winkel
My dad started direct seeding in the mid 70’s when the local White dealer brought a new White 5100 no-till seeder to the farm. I was teaching 30 miles up the road and we were all looking for a better way to preserve the soil of hilly farms and free up time to tend to cattle and other jobs.
We had already moved from ploughshare to chisel tillage, so it was a natural progression for us. We made a lot of mistakes because we didn’t understand what we were trying to do, but we were willing to learn.
Our problem was weeding. We knew how to control weeds with tillage and disc, but we never figured out how to control weeds with chemicals in no-till. We had 2,4-D and atrazine, enough to get started, but had no idea what paraquat was or how it worked.
We quickly learned to use it to kill whatever was there so the crop could start and control the grasses and broadleaf weeds somewhat with 2,4-D and atrazine.
We eventually got the weeds under control, but we still fought them. We had dear old Johnsongrass (I’m sure there’s a place in heaven for Johnson and his followers and those who were led down this path somewhere) and there was no control for it.
We kept the corn no-till for those years and eventually started growing soybeans for a cash crop. It really got bigger with the oil embargo in the early 70s and we were forced to learn how to grow soybeans without tillage.
We planted soybeans in tilled soil and there was no no-till seeder, so again innovative farmers developed the first no-till seeders. That was years after planting no-till soybeans in 30-inch rows with the no-till corn planters.
The problem with the corn drill was the coulter. This would coat the damp soil, so you had to wait for the soil to dry out before you could plant. The moment you waited, you could plow and disc and plant the corn and start growing. Seeded beans also covered more quickly than rows planted with corn.
Case IH released the first good no-till row units and they caught on. The small inside diameter of the gauge wheel tire and low row unit pressure were key to their success. The first true no-till drill I ever used was the Haybuster and Tye drill and that was 1990 now.
In the 90s we had so much moisture in the Ohio Valley that we had to wait forever for it to seem to plant, so I was ready to quit no-till in 1995. It just so happened that I bought my first modem for my IBM computer and found the Internet. A successful farmer near Dayton that I had met during my stint as county agricultural officer kept urging me to try it. There I found Crop Scouting at www.agriculture.com who pioneered the agricultural internet revolution we enjoy today.
I took my dilemma to Crop Scouting and a farmer in Iowa told me to remove the coulters without tillage and let the dual disc opener do the tillage! I thought it would never work, but I was willing to try anything to keep the benefits of no-till on our soils.
Sure, it worked, but the row unit wasn’t as good on the White as it was on the Case IH. I purchased an IH 400 Cyclo Corn Planter and had the best of both worlds, but preferred the easier to use vacuum seeding mechanism over the white planter. The drive to find the combined characteristics of both was on, so the Iowa farmer worked with Howard Martin of Kentucky and his cousin, the local farm mechanic, to perfect the principles of the IH row unit on planters. Deere, Kinze and White.
Mr. Martin was working with Eugene Keeton of Tennessee who developed the famous Keeton Seed Firmer, a long plastic spoon that stuffed seeds onto corn planters at the bottom of the seed trench. This great invention is worthy of itself and deserves its own recognition.
This group proposed the Nu-Till configuration adapted and promoted by AgSpectrum Company in Iowa. This partnership did not last, so Howard promoted his own Martin system through Farmer and Mechanic and others who quickly adapted the system and shared it with anyone who would listen. I was one of those and helped bring it to Ohio and across the country through the agricultural internet, emails, and conferences we were invited to. We all learned together and shared our learnings and pitfalls.
Today, many innovative farmers use the Martin no-till planting system, which is any row unit with a single disc opener cutting residue and applying nitrogen and sulfur, a Martin row cleaner sweeping residue out of the way of the trench, the a standard double disc opener doing the tillage by cutting a Vee for the seed so it can germinate and grow like any maize planting system.
The seeder meters the seed into the seed tube where it is detected and monitored, drops into the seed trench, pressed firmly into the trench and lightly plowed like a garden by a pair of Martin spiked closing wheels (smaller seed cleaners). Martin rows mounted to reverse action), leaving a seed trench gently lifted by the weight of the drill through the tire action of the reduced inside diameter gauge wheel, while holding the seed in its place at depth and spacing desired by the planter. We strive to maintain the same amount of soil and porous space with this system, just as you do when planting seeds normally. The row is topped by a slight mound with loose friable soil with a 40 inch looped drag chain of heavy 3/8 inch square steel running freely behind the seed trench, attached to the seeder to form this last job off the ground without bouncing in the spiked closing wheels.
The result is the best corn planter I have ever used and I know many farmers agree. This system has been around now since the mid-90s, spreading year after year, giving farmers a tool to plant corn and other crops on the first day you could drive a tractor into that field. This system allowed the drenched soils of the Midwest to be planted first last year and many years, giving the crop a chance to capture all the sunlight possible in a no-till situation.
The NNTC or National No-Tillage Conference demonstrated its effectiveness again last week when many winners of various awards were found to have been using this system for many years. Maize yields continue to rise in this country, regardless of the weather, and this system also allows it to occur by no-till, saving “land, oil and toil” when it is most needed and appreciated.
This is part of my lifelong learning of no-tillage and I thank the many people who have helped to make it happen, “for others as well as for myself”, as the 1930 FFA Creed put it so well. .
Ed’s friends from NNTC and his extensive travels can enjoy some of his blogs, available here
We enjoyed reviewing his collection and it brought back good memories. And also reminded us of some of Ed’s meaningful and encouraging words that would keep us in mind how important our work is – bringing together the greatest minds of no-tillage to transfer knowledge between farmers.
“The best think tank in all of agriculture,” he told me during a coffee break at the year-old NNTC in Des Moines, as he scanned the crowd of attendees.
And since his friends, students and colleagues remember Ed 7 years later, you can bet he remembers you too. Here’s another post about what you and his no-till friends meant to him, written in 2012 after a week at NNTC
Got your own Ed Winkle story? Leave it in the comment field below…
The landmark No-Till series, appearing throughout 2022, is supported by Montag Mfg. For more historical content, including video/multimedia, visit www.No-TillFarmer.com/historieseries.