People call Dan Gillespie the “passionate Billy Graham of no-till” in Madison County, NE. And he's winning a lot of disciples.

Gillespie is a 47-year-old no-till crop grower and permanent part-time soil conservation technician for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Battle Creek, NE. He started experimenting with no-till in 1987. In 1992 he went 100% on the 690 acres he farms.

“When you see the soil-saving benefits,” he says, “you see how it can change your life, your soil and your profitability, and you want to get more people enlightened on the technology. It gives me a lot more time to spend with my family, too, which is important to me.”

Gillespie isn't alone in promoting no-till in that area of northeastern Nebraska. It's a team effort including, among others, Larry Wetterberg, NRCS resource conservationist at Battle Creek.

Gillespie, however, is coordinator for a no-till incentive program launched by the Lower Elkhorn Natural Resource District (LENRD) in 1999. It started with 65 farmers who enrolled 8,382 acres. A survey showed that participants applied no-till on 6.6 acres of additional land for every acre contracted.

Currently, 158 farmers have 21,220 acres under contract, which translates to 161,272 acres of applied total no-till.

Farmers can enroll up to 160 acres at $10/acre/year for five years. The five-year requirement was established to assure that farmers would see the long-term benefits of no-till.

“This incentive program has really allowed us to come through and get the land treatment acres that our federal agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, has been wanting us to get,” Gillespie says. “The program has generated interest around the country and is starting to be duplicated.”

A key element of the LENRD No-Till Incentive Program is the requirement that participants must attend two educational workshops per year.

Because of its moisture-saving advantage, no-till has a particular appeal in drier states like South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas. “Many people farther east talk about a yield drag with no-till in the beginning,” Gillespie says. “I can unequivocally say, from year one, my yields were better. I'm just tickled with the yields.”

Derek Zohner and his father, Rod, were lured into the program the first year mostly because of the incentive payment. It worked so well on the 100 acres contracted in '99, they went no-till on all their acres in 2000.

“The soil moisture-holding benefits and the incredible soil savings are big pluses for no-till,” says Derek, of Battle Creek. “There's a big improvement in soil structure already. After a big rain, the landlord can't believe that the residue, with all the worm holes under it to quickly absorb the water, held the soil in place. And the crop yields have been tremendous. That saved moisture really helps in July and August.”

Land that the Zohners farm is mostly topsy-turvy hills that are highly erosive, Rod explains. They now eliminate trips with a field cultivator and a disk.

“Machinery and fuel costs are definitely reduced, and you have more time to use as you want,” Rod says. “You bet we would do it over again. It has changed our way of farming, and it's full steam ahead.”