CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Joe Rothermel was busy out in his tractor in early May spraying his fields in preparation for planting. And recently he began planting soybeans when a lot of his Champaign County neighbors were in a holding pattern, waiting for fields to dry.

“I was able to get into my fields to do some work without doing any damage to my equipment or my soils,” he said.

For 27 years, Rothermel’s curiosity and commitment to no-till, cover crops and improving the biology and health of his soil has been his most important goal.

And recently he was one of a very few farmers who planted soybeans in a field growing cereal rye, or some other cover crop species, since last November.

“I don’t ‘work’ my ground,” he says. “But I do work hard building and strengthening the underground soil structure in all my fields. I let nature construct soil aggregates, and the results are simple and simply amazing.”

Rothermel’s soils have a strong, biology-based structure that works. Water infiltrates deeper, so his ground is firm.

“I wait for my fields to dry out, too. I just don’t wait as long. I can get out there and not sink,” Rothermel said.

By building up natural microenvironments beneath the soil and not ripping up and destroying the tiny drainage systems and networks, his soils are strong enough to support equipment. His soils are ready to receive seeds and begin good germination of his 2019 crop.

“Illinois could use more innovative and conservation-minded farmers like Joe. He’s trying new things, conducting research in his fields, learning more and helping to teach others what he’s learned,” said State Conservationist Ivan Dozier.

Rothermel has a process that’s different from conventional cropping systems. He does different things, measures and focuses on different things.

“My techniques and emphasis on getting back to the natural biology of healthy soil is the direction agriculture is going. It’s happening in the U.S. and around the globe,” he said.

To learn more about improving soil health on your acres, visit or contact your local Soil and Water Conservation District.


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