South Coffeyville, Oklahoma
Back in 2009, you couldn’t pay Scotty Herriman to try no-till. “Our bottomland is tight, heavy clay,” he told NRCS. “It won’t work here.”
Scotty has been growing corn, soybeans, wheat, and milo on 2,000 acres in Nowata County, Oklahoma, for over 50 years, but Scotty is the first to acknowledge he misjudged no-till. Six years into his total no-till conversion, now he says “it will work here, and I’ve proved it.”
It took a series of disasters to get Scotty to consider making a change. He had seen others try no-till as early as the 1970s, but even during the severe drought of 1980-1981, Scotty doubted the cost-effective and water-saving system. He was convinced a chisel was necessary to break up his soil, and the cost of a no-till drill was a gamble that outweighed the potential benefit.
“The drought was tough,” he said. “It was hard to get a crop and the banks weren’t in your favor. If I look back, we probably went broke twice.”
Disaster struck again in 2007 when a major flood drowned his fields. In all, he harvested a meager 13 acres that year. For two more years, Scotty fought nature and rising fuel prices by pulling a chisel behind his tractor. A visit to his local USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) field office in 2010 finally changed his mind. He learned he could use assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to switch to no-till. Just like that, decades of conventional farming went out the window.
“We switched overnight,” Scotty said.
After the first no-till planting, Scotty’s wife of 40 years, Jo, described the farm as the ugliest in the county—referring to the crop residue that is intentionally left on the soil surface to protect the soil from erosion and temperature extremes. But the results are undeniable: the Herrimans have cut equipment and fuel costs and reduced fertilizer usage in certain crops. Today, both Scotty and Jo have reversed their opinions on “ugly” soil. It’s the exposed soil without residue that’s really an eyesore.
Scotty’s farm is now a leader in the state for corn yields. But Scotty isn’t done yet. “We want to push the limits of what our land can produce,” he said.
After witnessing the successes of other Oklahoma Soil Health Champions Jimmy Emmons and Alan Mindemann, Scotty started integrating cover crops into his no-till system in 2016. In conjunction with no-till, cover crops help farmers simulate a natural plant ecosystem on cropland, and Scotty believes it’s the next step to driving his yields even higher while investing in his soil health. His 2016 cover crop was made possible through Scotty’s partnership with Oklahoma State University (OSU), which was awarded a NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) to study what influence various cover crops and crop mixes have on soybean and corn productivity.
Scotty Herriman is a member of the Nowata County Conservation District board of directors and currently represents the northeast portion of the state as an Area III member of the Oklahoma Conservation Commission. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin appointed him to a five-year term in that position.
Scotty served two one-year terms as president of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts in 2007-2008 and previously served several years as Area III director on the OACD board of directors. Other service and affiliations include the Cherokee Hills Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) Council, the state RC&D Council, and the Oklahoma Soybean board of directors.
The Herrimans have three grown sons, all married, and two grandchildren.