Most of the time, we only think of no-till in terms of what it means to growers and agriculture. Seldom do we look at the economic impact it is having on our population and society, whether here in North America or around the globe.
Society, which benefits from no-tillers providing lower-cost food, has an interest in protecting the world’s environment and preserving our natural resources. Yet the fact that more land is being no-tilled each year has pretty much gone unnoticed by members of urban society.
I recently came across a research paper written by a Brazilian no-till researcher that was based on a presentation he made at the 10th International Soil Conservation Organization meeting held in 1999 at Purdue University.
While the paper written by John Landers summarizes the early growth of no-till in Brazil, what caught my eye was a section dealing with the economic implications of this reduced tillage practice for the country’s general population. While the information was based on findings Landers gathered years ago, the 12 major benefits of no-till to society listed here still hold true today.
No-Till’s Environmental Benefits Undersold
By combining the extra cropping value enjoyed by growers with the climate-friendly environmental benefits of this practice, it’s apparent we’ve been underselling the overall worth of no-till.
Over the years, growers have told the No-Till Farmer staff they’ve saved anywhere from an extra $25-90 per acre by switching to no-till from more intensive tillage systems. These no-till savings include less machinery investment, reduced input costs, fewer trips across the field, less labor needs, better water usage, lower nutrient needs and the ability to farm more acres.
Since the actual value differs among farms and fields, we’re taking a conservative approach by settling on an extra return of $30 per acre as an across-the-board average for calculating the overall benefits of no-tilling.
Based on a recent economic analysis by the Rural Investment to Protect Our Environment (RIPE) group, here’s a rundown on the value this farmer-led, non-profit organization places on five key environmental benefits that occur with no-tilled soybeans:
|Environmental Benefits||Value per Acre|
|Carbon sequestration||$ 7|
|Soil health||$ 16|
|Air quality and health benefits||$ 20|
|Water quality||$ 25|
|Soil nutrients||$ 44|
By adding a conservative $30 per acre earned by growers when they move to this reduced tillage practice, the overall no-till benefit grows to an amazing $142 per acre. That represents $16 billion in extra value for the nearly 110 million acres being no-tilled today in the U.S.
By seeding cover crops after corn harvest, the RIPE group estimated an overall environmental value of $102 per acre. Since many no-tillers save $15 per acre due to reduced fertilizer and pesticide purchases alone, adding these figures with the environmental-friendly benefits of cover cropping brings the overall value to $117 per acre. If you add in the extra $30 per acre earned by growers, this brings the overall value of combining cover crops with no-till to $147 per acre.
More Dollars for No-Till
As an independent farmer-led non-profit organization, the Rural Investment to Protect Our Environment (RIPE) group is proposing a U.S. based incentive program that will fully cover the cropping costs of protecting the environment for the general public. This is in contrast to the cost-saving concept used with current U.S. Farm Bill conservation programs.
“We will focus on the public environmental benefits, along with farmer benefits,” says Aliza Wasserman-Drewes, director of the group. “We want to demonstrate the value of these practices to the public. This program won’t restrict the use of government ag cost-share programs and is designed to make sure future governmental climate policies won’t hamper farmer profitability.”
Adoption of the group’s recommended climate policy would guarantee a fair return to farmers for voluntary investments in practices that deliver public benefits for climate mitigation, clean water, healthy soil and other environmental services.
With the adoption of no-till, strip-till, cover crops or other environmental-friendly conservation practices, the yearly program would compensate growers up to $100 an acre with proposed federal government funding. These would include practices that improve soil health, lead to cleaner water, reduce climate change, reduce flood damage, add biodiversity, improve pollination, sequester carbon and reduce crop water needs.
“We also believe growers currently no-tilling and seeding cover crops should be compensated for already using these practices,” says Wasserman-Drewes. “We don’t want to lock early adopters of no-till, strip-till and cover crops out of our program.”
Big Returns for No-Tilling
Hopefully, you’ve recognized the favorable overall value no-till and cover crops are already having on the world’s environment. With this information, there’s no excuse for underselling the many merits of no-tilling and seeding cover crops to the general public — practices that have already proven extremely successful on many farms across America.