Peter Myers, the chief of the Soil Conservation Service (SCS), is a genuine farmer (cropping 1,100 acres at Matthews, Mo.) who believes in the many benefits of no-tillage. We think you’ll find his answers to our No-Till Farmer questions of special interest.
Have you used no-tillage on your own farm?
Myers: I struggled with no-tillage and botched it 10-12 years ago. Like everybody in the early days, we learned from our mistakes. We now have better machinery and herbicides to make no-till work. I’ve since gone to conservation tillage on our farm to save time and money.
We furrow irrigate, which makes no-till difficult. If it weren’t for that, we’d be doing considerable no-till.
Why is less tillage so important these days?
Myers: If we can convince farmers to leave residue on the soil instead of going to bare ground, then we’re halfway home. The most important factor in reducing cropland erosion is to leave crop residue on the soil surface. Without the mulch that nature provides through crop residue, erosion is nearly impossible to control.
Even expensive structures, such as terraces and diversion ditches, may not always function properly when the soil is not protected with residue.
Why should farmers shift to no-tillage?
Myers: An important short-term benefit is the satisfaction that comes from a sense of accomplishment and good soil management. A farmer doesn’t want to squander his soil — he wants to protect it while making an adequate income. No-till permits him to do this.
What will make farmers shift to less tillage?
Myers: Economic considerations will be the deciding factor because no-till often costs less than conventional tillage. In parts of Missouri, for example, conventional tillage results in annual soil losses of 40 tons per acre. Conservation tillage cuts loss down to 12 tons and costs the grower $3.50 less per acre than using conventional tillage.
How fast is minimum tillage and no-tillage catching on today?
Myers: Adoption rates have been relatively high. Reduced tillage is being accepted faster than any other practice in the history of farming.
Estimates for 2010 (based on earlier projections from our No-Till Farmer acreage surveys) put the number of acres in conservation tillage methods at around 95% just 27 years from now. At that time, more than 50% of the U.S. cropland will be in no-till. I believe these figures for the year 2010 are still attainable.
Will we see changes in government cost-sharing options?
Myers: Both the SCS and ASCS are assessing various cost-sharing options. We are looking at the elimination of cost sharing for terraces and watersheds if no-tillage could provide the same soil-saving results.
What’s the future for the moldboard plow?
Myers: The new machinery, chemicals and techniques that have made conservation tillage possible will make the moldboard plow as obsolete as the scythe and butter churn.
I haven’t owned a plow in a dozen years. In fact, we don’t chisel plow any more since the heavy clay on our farm is loosening up.
The moldboard plow is a tool of the past since we don’t need to turn the ground over like we used to do. Today’s farmers will junk the plow or trade it in on no-till coulters.
There are a few isolated areas where farmers probably need a breaking plow, but the quicker we can get rid of them, the better off we will be.
We have to start doing less tillage or we’ll lose all our land. As far as I’m concerned, you can take all the plows in the country and put them in the scrap iron pile.
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From The Archives: No-Till Gets More Attention Among Soil Conservationists
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