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Remembering Zone-Tillage Pioneer, Equipment Innovator Ray Rawson

Known as the father of the zone-tillage system, Ray Rawson passed away on Sept. 22. The Farwell, Mich., farmer was 79 years old.

An equipment inventor and innovator, Ray was a friend I’ve known for most of 50 years I’ve been writing about no-tillage. The holder of numerous patents, Ray was at his best when dreaming up new equipment designs and fabricating the machines in the family’s farm shop.

Along with his wife, Helen, Ray and sons Steve and Dave ran a highly-efficient large-acreage operation for many years that turned out high yields with an emphasis on fresh trend-setting ideas and a solid return on investment. The family also ran a huge on farm test plot program that looked at every aspect of reduced tillage crop production.

In the 1970s, the family made the switch to less tillage by going the no-till route, which convinced Ray that making fewer trips across fields could produce as good or better crops than folks making four or more costly tillage trips. During this time, he experimented with different style planters, different ways to create an ideal seedbed and different ways to apply nutrients. This led to development of the zone-till system.

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