Adoption of no-till and conservation agriculture practices has boomed in South America since it was first introduced in the 1970s.
As of 2018-19, nearly 69% of cropland area in South and Central America is no-tilled for a total of 205.1 million acres. Ten years earlier, 122.6 million acres of cropland in South and Central America were no-tilled.
Rolf Derpsch was one of the first people to research no-till in Brazil and Latin America starting in 1971. He says innovative farmers have switched to no-till to do less work, make more money, control erosion more effectively, make farming more environmentally friendly and improve their quality of life.
Franke Dijkstra of Carambei, Brazil, is one of those farmers. He started no-tilling in 1976 after struggling with sandy soils, sloping terrains, excessive tillage and frequent downpours that led to serious wind and water erosion.
With technical assistance from the late University of Kentucky agronomist Shirley Phillips, Agricultural Research Service scientist Wayne Reeves and Kentucky soil scientist John Grove, Dijkstra has been able to triple his yields in some fields.
No-tilling corn and soybeans as early as possible gives him 15-40 additional days to no-till a second summer crop of corn or soybeans. The winter crop is typically barley with annual ryegrass seeded as a cover crop. In many fields, he grows three crops in a year’s time.
Between 1997 and 2010, his corn and soybean yields doubled or tripled with no-till. Average yields rose to 195 bushels for corn and 66 bushels per acre for soybeans.
For other South American farmers looking to duplicate Dijkstra’s success, Derpsch put together this list of 10 essential items for no-till success under South American cropping conditions:
- Behave like an agronomist, whether you are a landowner, landlord or manager of the soil.
- Expand your no-till knowledge before shifting away from more intensive tillage.
- Analyze your soils and aim for balanced nutrient and pH levels.
- Avoid starting out with no-till on soils with poor drainage, and level the soil surface in your fields.
- Eliminate soil compaction before you start no-tilling.
- Produce the largest amount of biomass possible.
- Buy a straw harrow and no-till planter or drill.
- Start no-tilling with less than 10% of your acres.
- Follow a crop rotation, and use green manure cover crops.
- Continue to learn more about no-till, and seek out advisors who understand this reduced tillage concept.
South America Focuses On Soil Quality: After decades of rapidly expanding agriculture, South America is turning its focus from developing new fields to taking better care of those already in production.
Roberto Peiretti’s 20 Tips for a Dynamic No-Till System: When it comes to confirming the benefits of a dynamic no-till system, Roberto Peiretti has had the benefit of 40 years of experience honing his approach in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.
Erosion Poised to Cause Unprecedented Food Shortages Worldwide: South America is predicted to incur the largest increase in erosion rates in the next decade. Already 68% of South American soil is affected, with 640 million acres deforested, 172 million acres overgrazed by livestock and as much as half the land in Argentina and Paraguay damaged by desertification.
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