Planting Patrol: Committing to no-till years ago benefits New York farmer for years to come

The life of a farmer is full of risks. Even minor decisions can feel like gambles.

So it’s not surprising that when New York soybean farmer Ralph Lott decided to transition his farm to no-till 30 years ago, he was met with some resistance.

“It was really tough for my 55-year-old father to switch to no-till after all those years,” says Lott. “But when we look at our bottom line now, we’re so happy we did.”

With a little patience, that decision has paid off in a big way.

“When I think about how much I’ve saved on fuel, labor, time and tractors,” says Lott, “it’s just been huge.”

Looking back at the number of employees and different pieces of equipment he used to need, Lott says he couldn’t begin to calculate the savings today. Those savings are especially appreciated in the current market.

This isn’t the first time no-till has protected him in a downturn.

herbicide_resistant_weed_management“I remember how concerned everyone in New York was for farmers when fuel prices shot up years ago,” recalls Lott. “No-till spared us from major losses by cutting our diesel usage down to less than two gallons an acre.”

Planting season is another time when Lott’s patience pays off.

The weather conditions in northwestern New York aren’t always favorable for farmers wanting to get their seeds in the ground early.  Even in May, it’s cold and wet, but thanks to no-till, Lott has noticed a change in his fields over the last several years.

“Our soil is softer, allowing us to get out earlier in the spring,” says Lott. “Then we can plant all 1,800 acres of our soybeans in nine to 10 days.”

There’s one change that hasn’t been for the better, though, and that’s weed resistance.

Diversity key with weed management

soybean_planting_2016_lottLott admits that even with all the benefits of no-till, it may have played a part in the changes he’s seen in weeds. Thankfully, the change has been gradual.

His biggest fear is introducing new weeds to his part of the country where herbicide resistance hasn’t been as prevalent, compared to areas in the South.

“Last year, we bought a tractor part from Minnesota and let it sit out all summer,” recalls Lott. “This was done to allow any weed seeds on it to germinate and die before the equipment was used in our fields."

His advice to other farmers this planting season is to pledge to Take Action on herbicide-resistant weeds.

“We scout all the time and use cover crops to keep weeds under control,” says Lott. “We’ve got a good handle on them now, but we can’t let our guard down when there are so many ways that weeds can travel across the United States.”

For more tactics you can add to your weed-management plan this year and ways to avoid contaminating your fields while planting, visit