No-Till Agriculture Promises Major Reforms

No-till farming advocates say that their revolutionary farming techniques could provide American agriculture with an environmentally friendly method of crop production.

Tilling fields to remove weeds, create furrows for irrigation, and shape the soil into rows for crop planting is the traditional method of crop preparation in the United States. However, this technique also leads to several less than favorable results, including the loss of organic matter, the death or disruption of soil microbes, and soil erosion.

Beginning in the 1940s, agricultural scientists began experimenting with new herbicides and farm chemicals in order to plant and harvest crops without the need for tilling.

No-till advocates believe that eliminating tilling can make farms more efficient and profitable. Less tillage reduces labor requirements, fuel costs, irrigation needs, and wear and tear on farm machinery. In addition, eliminating tillage can lead to less erosion and higher water infiltration and storage capacity.

In addition to economic benefits, no-till farming has been linked to a reduction in carbon emissions. Soil tilled by farm machinery mixes air into organic material, leading to dramatic increase in microbial activity and a rapid breakdown of organic matter. When broken down, this matter releases carbon into the atmosphere, increasing carbon dioxide levels and contributing to global warming.

Currently about 35 percent of American crops are grown using no-till methods. The U.S. Department of Agriculture currently offers subsidies for cover crops seeds and specialized equipment.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer