Conservation ethics were instilled in Mark Turner at a young age while helping his father on the family farm. When Mark took over Turner Farms, he saw the negative effects on the land from the moldboard plow, and decided to purchase his first no-till drill in 1983. The farm is now no-till and cover cropped on every acre.
At Turner Farms, Mark works alongside his wife June, his son and daughter-in-law Matthew and Hannah, and his daughter Leslie. The Turners raise chickens for Perdue and grow tobacco, pumpkins, grains and a variety of cover crops. Year-round cover cropping has led to improved soil structure, promoting water infiltration, weed suppression and proper plant growth. Mark also leaves grassy strips along his ditch areas to prevent erosion and nutrient loading into streams.
At Turner Farms, Soil testing is a critical piece of the complex soil health puzzle. Before spreading poultry litter, he tests the soil and hires a service to scout his fields and provide nutrient maps to see accumulations and trends. To ensure he is being thorough, he sometimes sends the soil to three different labs to help paint a more accurate picture of the soil composition.
His dedication to learning more about the soil and using multiple analysis tools taught him that the land he thought lacked nutrients based on yields was actually his most nutrient-rich. The poor yields were unrelated to fertility, but instead due to water and nutrient management. He has since cut his nitrogen applications by 25%.
The transition to no-till was not without obstacles. The fields had a long history of being used as pasture and developed a thick fescue mat. Mark made mechanical adjustments to his planter to accommodate this aspect of the land. He also spent a considerable amount of time learning new approaches from other no-till farmers.
Mark is active in and has hosted Webster, Ohio and Davies County Field Days. He has traveled across the state to speak and generate interest in soil health, and his efforts have made an impression on his neighbors, sparking their interest in adopting conservation practices.
“Mark is a forward thinker and not afraid to adapt new beneficial practices to his farm. I wish more farmers would take Mark’s lead in the adaptation of conservation practices, no-till/conservation tillage and cover crops,” said Cary Hicks, McLean County Extension Agent, Ag & Natural Resources Cooperative Extension Service. “He truly is an outstanding leader in this field and in our area.”