Shirley H. Phillips
Shirley Phillips is known throughout the world as one of the fathers of no-till agriculture, a practice that farmers worldwide use to conserve soil and water.
He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agriculture from the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. Phillips served as an associate agricultural agent, state specialist in field crops and associate director for extension during his tenure at UK. His initial no-till work was done in collaboration with Christian County farmer Harry Young Jr., and Reeves Davie, agricultural extension agent in Christian County.
As a state specialist, he worked with Young and many other farmers with on-farm trials of new crop varieties and emerging herbicides. Young planted a corn field without tillage, spraying it immediately afterwards with atrazine and 2, 4-D. Yields and weed control were encouraging, and both Phillips and Davie were favorably impressed. Until that time, Phillips had advocated conventional tillage and thorough seedbed preparation. But Young was determined to have a go with the no-till idea, and in 1962 commercial no-till corn production began.
The crop was impressive enough that Davie had a county-wide field day, and Davie and Phillips encouraged Young to stick with the practice. By 1963, two of Young’s neighbors tried no-till corn, and Phillips, a previously committed “plow-man,” was an advocate for the practice.
He started a revolution among his colleagues in the UK Department of Agronomy. That department eventually became the world’s leader for research in no-till crop production. His efforts in developmental research, and in disseminating information through personal contacts, technical and popular writings, radio, television, field days and short courses, provided the stimulus that made Kentucky a world leader in no-tillage farming and research. The first no-tillage conference in the world was held in Kentucky due to his efforts.
Phillips and Young wrote the first book on no-tillage agriculture in 1973. Among his other major contributions was the campaign to increase corn, soybean and wheat production so that Kentucky could be competitive with the Corn Belt and the development of double cropping systems with soybeans following barley and wheat to provide two crops in one year for Kentucky farmers. The Department of Plant and Soil Sciences established the "S.H. Phillips Distinguished No-Till Agriculture Lecture" in his honor.
Phillips was named to the UK Hall of Distinguished Alumni in 1989.