That’s a common theme at Fuller Farms – looking for any way possible to reduce purchased inputs.

“Because of my focus on soil health, I am lowering my inputs,” Fuller says. “That not only is a benefit to my bottom line, but it helps to improve the environment that surrounds my operation, and the global environment.”

The key to cutting back on inputs is the big change he’s been able to make in soil organic matter (SOM). “When I made the switch to no-till, my SOM was in the 1.7% to 2.5% range,” Fuller recalls. “It now is in the 3.5% to 4.7% range. That alone has increased my water-holding capacity by 81,000 gallons per acre.”

Using cover crops to help improve the mineral cycle allows Fuller to reduce his need for commercial fertilizer. “I reduced nitrogen needs by 25% in 2011, and in places, I reduced nitrogen an additional 40% for 2012,” he says. “Solvita respiration tests are showing that my soils are capable of producing well over half of all my fertilizer needs. Those numbers will improve as I continue to build my microbial communities and increase SOM.”

Fuller points out another benefit: “Using cover crops and companion crops to grow my nitrogen, I not only decrease my demand for commercial fertilizer but organic nitrogen is much more stable in the soil than inorganic nitrogen,” he says. “I also am able to recycle phosphorus, which allows me to apply less commercial phosphorus, thus reducing runoff into area water supplies.”

Erosion control is a big part of protecting water quality. “NRCS data shows that conventionally tilled fields in my area erode more than 5 tons of soil per acre per year. Continuous no-till loses an average of only 0.5 ton of soil per acre per year. Adding cover crops and companion crops with my cash crops is going to allow me to not only lower that number further, but also begin to rebuild soil.”

Switching his operations to no-till eliminates at least two passes with equipment, and adding cover crops eliminates one more pass with a sprayer. “The benefits of that are two-fold,” Fuller says. “I use less fuel to make, deliver and spray the chemical, and have happier neighbors because of less chance of drift.” He says he also gets compliments from neighbors about less dust, as well as how pretty his cover crops are when blooming.