John Phipps: The Upside of No-Till

October 18, 2017 10:24 AM

This week we have a seemingly simple question from Carole Pepler who lives in Trenton, Maine:

“Several months ago you said you would talk about no till on a future show. I surely would like to hear your viewpoint.  This week we noticed a reference to minimal till on a four-year rotation.  How does that work?”

No-till is pretty much what the name implies – planting crops without any mechanical tillage of the ground beforehand, such as plowing, disking, or cultivating. This idea became popular in the 1980s, and for a while it looked like we would all switch to no-till systems. While we don’t have really good data on total acres now using no-till the highest I have seen is about 17%, and that’s only using it every other year, which does not match my idea of true no-till farming.

This week I’ll talk about the benefits, and next week the drawbacks and controversies.

Here are the advantages of no-till.

First, no-till can greatly reduce wind and water erosion on ground that is at risk, such as slopes or certain soil types.

In parts of the country with lower rainfall, no-till can capture and preserve more of that water.

No-till is why there are corn and beans in the Northern Plains and Canada.

No-till promotes better soil structure with less compaction and more aeration.

In theory, no-till farming uses a lot less machinery, which means less fuel and labor as well.

Around here we have dedicated no-tillers whose yields are as good as anyone.

Because there is less soil movement, no-till can lower carbon emissions. If you don’t believe in climate change this doesn’t matter, of course.

Finally, no-till provides habitat, especially in winter for all kinds of animal life, aiding biodiversity.

After all this you might wonder why any of us are not using no-till. I’ll answer that next week.

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