A land ethic was 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 from the moldboard plow to the land. He decided to purchase a no-till drill in 1983. The farm now practices no-till and plants cover crops on every acre.
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, water infiltration, weed suppression and proper plant growth. Mark leaves grassy strips along ditches to prevent erosion into streams.
For Turner Farms, soil testing is a critical piece of the complex soil health puzzle. Before spreading poultry litter, he hires a service to scout his fields and conduct testing to determine the soil's composition. This dedication to the soil, and then use of multiple analysis tools taught him that land he thought lacked nutrients (based on yields) was actually his most nutrient-rich. Unrelated to fertility, the poor yields were due to water and nutrient management. He has since cut his nitrogen applications by 25 percent.
The transition to no-till was not without obstacles. The fields that were once pasture had a thick fescue mat. To accommodate this, Mark made mechanical adjustments to his planter and learned new no-till approaches from other farmers.
Mark has hosted field days, and travels to speak and promote soil health. These efforts has sparked the interest of neighbors to adopt 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's Extension Agent. “He truly is an outstanding leader in this field and in our area.”