Think back 30 years. 1982. Reagan inhabited the White House. The earth was home to 4.6 billion people. Some brilliant forward-thinking scientists had created a space shuttle, the MRI diagnostic machine, and the first artificial heart. And some agricultural visionaries quietly started a conservation revolution.

Yes, that same year, a few Think Different leaders from agribusiness, government and associations started a crusade to get farmers to rethink their tillage practices -- as they launched the humble beginnings of the Conservation Tillage Information Center (CTIC).

In their early days they launched successful programs like a national Crop Residue Management survey, a Tillage hotline of farmers helping other farmers, National Watershed Network, MAX Program to put no-till to the economic test, Great Lakes Cover Crop Initiative, Conservation In Action tours, manure management, riparian and wetland restoration, Core 4 Conservation, 4R Nutrient Stewardship program and much more. Then as water quality issues loomed larger, the organization changed its name, and switched the "T" from Tillage to Technology to reflect the growing reach of the center. CTIC has also been involved in air quality issues, and expanded its reach to help build conservation across the globe.

I was fortunate to attend the CTIC's 30th anniversary celebration last month, where great minds of passionate conservationists gathered to look back at amazing achievements and look ahead toward new challenges and growth.

During an afternoon discussion, one of my favorite comments came from the one-time SCS chief who wears his "Grandfather of No-Till" moniker proudly, Ohio farmer Bill Richards. "One thing I really think we need to focus on is to put a price tag on the value of what organic matter does to the farm real estate marketplace. That is the kind of land aspect that landlords would look at. We haven't done a good enough job selling the long-term productivity gains back to the landowner. I think I could work out the economics that show where a 2% rise in organic matter is worth about $2,000/acre value to the land," he says.

When asked how landowners, especially the far removed absentee owners, could make sure tenants are living up to conservation goals and not just raiding the land, Richards says growers could help educate them. "It's worthwhile to have conversations with landowners about how to help them look over the shoulders of tenants. And it can be as simple as writing into the lease about maintaining or improving soil organic matter to a specific percentage. And this gives landowners the power to get rid of tenants who raid nutrients and don't grow the soil," he adds.
"The single largest restriction on any of us farmers is access to a land base. So if we empower owners with a conservation ethic, you could begin to move mountains to achieve better conservation," Richards adds.

I sincerely thank you for reading and for being willing to Think Different.