No-tillage agriculture: A legacy born in Kentucky

LEXINGTON, KY - In the 60 years since the first commercial no-tillage planting in Christian County, the agricultural practice continues to improve soils and water quality on millions of acres across Kentucky, the United States and the world.

It all began with 0.7 acres of no-till corn and the late Harry Young, a Herndon producer, determined to find a better way to farm.

Harry Young, Marie Young and Shirley Phillips, UK agronomist, pose next to the

No-Tillage Historical Marker on the Youngs' farm. Photo courtesy of Alexander Young.

“My dad wanted to make the world a better place and help farmers better manage their land,” said John Young, Harry Young’s son. “He set out along with Shirley Phillips (University of Kentucky agronomist) to turn the United States and world onto a completely different type of agriculture.”

Harry Young planted his first commercial no-till crop during a time when Kentucky farmers were faced with eroding soils that were becoming increasingly difficult to farm.

“All of our topography is rolling, and people farmed it using conventional tillage because they had to. We had so many ditches. It was a real mess,” said Lloyd Murdock, professor emeritus in the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. “Kentucky was headed for a situation that would have put us out of crop production had it not been for no-tillage.”

Today, the number of producers implementing no-tillage continues to increase well beyond the state’s boundaries. Farmers practice no-tillage on more than 104 million acres in the United States, according the 2017 U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Census of Agriculture.

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