Admitting that “I once was a very impatient person,” Keith says, “As I’ve grown older, I’ve more and more learned the value of patience. I still want to use my time as effectively as possible, but I don’t want to get in such a hurry that I mess up something and have to redo it. I want every row I plant to be as good as it can be. When I make a pass across the field, I want that row to be in the optimum condition to make the highest yield possible.

“One change that has been really beneficial was to reduce planter speed. I used to run at 6 mph — now I go at 4 mph to 4.5 mph, and it has made a difference in more uniform stands.

“When I was doing conventional tillage, I was running three tractors with three operators, burning an awful lot of diesel and wearing out a lot of bearings and blades. I started transitioning to no-till in 2000, and the savings in time, equipment use, and fuel was significant. And it was a good fit with our goal of planting early.

“The benefits have been cumulative — each year gets progressively better. I can’t document it, but I can see the improvement in the soil from all the decaying residues; it just has better tilth. There are still instances when I feel it’s necessary to till — if I need to establish a bed in a new field, for example.

“I’ve been experimenting, on a small scale, with a bed system that I’d been thinking about for a long time. It requires tillage at the start to establish beds and then I go to permanent no-till with controlled traffic.”

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Soils are Collins silt loam and falaya loam, Keith says, and all but a couple of fields are bottom land. “I’ve been doing grid sampling and applying variable rate lime since 2004. Initially, my custom fertilizer applicator had a single bin truck, so we couldn’t do P and K applications independently. They got a multi-bin truck in 2010, and can now do variable rate applications.

“I sample every three years and use yield monitor data to determine application rates in non-sampling years to replace nutrients removed by the previous year’s crop.

“Since I’ve been doing variable rate lime applications, I’ve been seeing more stability in pH levels, and am now having to add less lime. At the same time, yields have been consistently increasing, particularly for soybeans. I used to see stunting of plants in low pH areas — now the crop is much more uniform and healthy, and yields are more stable. I hope to be able to achieve the same sort of improvement with corn.

“I do my best to stay on a rotation program. I’m constantly looking for any advantage I can find to improve my fields and my overall operation. When I finish each year, I evaluate everything I’ve done, and I try to find at least one thing I can do better next year.

“I’ve been able to add acres by renting some land that had been out of crops for 15-20 years. Some of it wasn’t the best of land, but I’ve been able to improve it and turn it into good, productive crop land.”