Clay County Texas, farmer Tommy Henderson may not know everything about farming, but he’s got more than the basics covered.

Drought. Got it covered.

Excessive heat. Got it covered.

High winds. Got it covered.

In the middle of one of the worst ongoing droughts in Texas history, how can Henderson remain so optimistic about his dryland winter wheat crop?

Because he’s got it covered.

Over the last two years Henderson has only received half of the average annual rainfall that would water his crops.

“Yeah, I need rain,” he admits, but then looking across the fence line adds, “But I think my neighbors need it a little worse than I do.”

Change on the Horizon

On this December morning a breeze gusting through the Red River Valley swirls dust as it blows across the neighboring land. His neighbors are conventional farmers, plowing their fields over many times to prepare a seedbed for their wheat crops. With less than an inch of rain falling since the beginning of October, much of the wheat in the area is beginning to fail.

Not Henderson’s. Three years ago he took a leap of faith and made a drastic change in his farming operation. With encouragement from the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and other sources, he became a no-till farmer.

This meant instead of spending countless hours on the tractor plowing his land multiple times, Henderson would now make only one trip to plant the seeds with special no-till equipment and then one trip to fertilize. Because of his history of conservation efforts, Henderson was awarded a Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) contract from NRCS in 2009. This provided some financial assistance that made it feasible for him to purchase the no-till equipment.

“Going no-till has changed my life,” he says. “My wife is a school teacher and I actually have time to go on vacations with her in the summer now.”

Six years ago Henderson began plowing, or tilling, his land as minimally as possible. Three years of minimum-till, followed by three years of no-till has resulted in significant improvement in the soil health in his fields, he says.