Flint on Crops: Why Choose No-Till? – Commentary

    When the idea of no-tillage farming was introduced there were a lot of skeptics. They were at every level of the production system from the bankers down to the grandfathers who were mentoring the next generation of farmers. The producers who ran this gauntlet were pioneers who helped prove the concept that has now been adopted by a large percentage of growers.  

    The reasons are numerous for the wide acceptance of the idea of at least reducing the level of tillage, but I want to mention a few of them to remind myself of their importance. If a few people who read this care to agree or disagree with me I will have at least brought the subject back up for renewed consideration.

    The main reason for avoiding intensive tillage is to conserve the finite resource that we depend upon for our existence, namely the soil. I know there are skeptics about this subject, but those who can’t accept the importance of soil conservation are either asleep or they have not paid attention to what happens on tilled soils following periods of heavy rainfall, and they have been blind to the fact that many fields have lost their productivity as the result of soil loss.

    The other reasons can be listed in quick succession even though they may not be as readily accepted. Most of these items happen out of sight, below the soil surface where crops get most of the nutrients and all of the water required for growth and reproduction, including the presence of more organic activity in undisturbed soils which then supports an improved moisture supply.

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    Soil organisms improve the availability of water and nutrients to growing plants by way of natural systems like the hyphal network formed by mycorrhizal fungi. Actinomycetes, and bacteria support the uptake of nutrients and their conversion to available forms. These and other soil organisms also synthesize hormones and auxins that aid plants in growth, stress tolerance and avoidance of diseases and pests. All of this may seem like wild speculation, however these and other systems even more unusual are real.

    The no-till system name has been modified to other titles such as conservation tillage or strip tillage, which more accurately reflect the way producers have changed no-till to fit their needs. These modifications have been made to improve seed placement and stand establishment. They also facilitate the control of weeds while at the same time gaining some of the major advantages of the original no-till idea. Alterations validate one of the fundamental principles of agriculture in that we seldom understand an idea, product, implement, or system until farmers recognize its merit and begin to use it themselves. This does not mean that they have abandoned the idea, rather it shows that they are making it work.

    As the years have passed since the first attempts at farming without intensive tillage there have been new planting systems, herbicides, and yes even specialized tillage implements developed to enhance the system of reduced tillage. Today our streams carry much less soil from our fields, fewer nutrients are wasted, crops are more capable of enduring drought, and our land is healing itself under the care of farmers who understand the importance of correctly managing it.

    We are told that at the present rate of reproduction the population of our planet may double by the year 2050. This means that the soil must be managed right, that more land may be required to feed everyone, and that the resources we have to accomplish this monumental feat may not increase accordingly. The only way to get this done is by doing a better job of production. The soil is the key factor in making this work whether on a huge farm, a small farm, or a garden.

    Thanks for your time.

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