“The phenomenal growth of no-tillage has probably been unequaled by any introduction of any farming practice, method or piece of technology. While extra profit is involved in the rapid change to no-till crop production, conservation appears to be the primary reason for the change...” Frank Lessiter
Over the years, the topic of no-till has come up numerous times in the nation’s capital among politicians, lobbyists, association staffers and government staffers. On April 3, 1973, Frank Lessiter was asked to testify before the House Agriculture Committee on the important role no-tillage was playing in American agriculture.
For this No-Till Farmer “Influencers & Innovators” podcast, brought to you by NewLeaf Symbiotics, we dug through our archives to find that speech of Frank’s and asked him to share it.
Frank says he welcomed the opportunity to testify about how the many benefits of no-till could trim costs, boost incomes, curb erosion and effectively bring idled acres back into production.
To testify before a Congressional committee, Frank first had to get his name on the testimony roster. He then had to show up with 100 copies of his prepared statement. With just 10 minutes to tell the no-tillage story, Frank prepared about 5 pages of single-spaced information, and practiced several times to make sure he could get it done in time. According to Frank, he had to talk fast.
The day he testified about no-till, committee members also heard about dairy support prices, honey production, cotton production, wildlife management and comments on the proposed farm bill.
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Welcome to the latest episode of the No-Till Farmer Influencers and Innovators Podcast from Julia Gerlach, Executive Editor for No-Till Farmer. NewLeaf Symbiotics sponsors this program, featuring stories about the past, present and future of no-till farming. I encourage you to subscribe to the series which is available in iTunes, Google podcast, Spotify, SoundCloud, Stitcher, and TuneIn radio. Subscribing will allow you to receive an alert about upcoming episodes as soon as they're released. I'd like to take a moment to thank our sponsor NewLeaf Symbiotics for supporting our No-Till Farmer Influencers and Innovators Podcast Series. Want to do more with your fields in 2022, now available in convenient planter box application, Terrasym by NewLeaf Symbiotics is proven by Beck's 2021 PFR to improve yield by 2.7 bushels per acre in soybeans and 4.6 bushels per acre in corn, and nets $20,000 more in incremental income with every 1000 acres planted. To calculate your ROI for the 2022 growing season and purchase Terrasym directly online for only $4.35 per acre, visit newleafsym.com/2022. That's newleafsym.com/2022.
Over the years, the topic of no-till has come up numerous times in the nation's capital among politicians, lobbyists, association staffers and government staffers. On April 3rd, 1973, Frank Lessiter was asked to testify before the House Agriculture Committee on the important role no-tillage was playing in American agriculture. He says he welcomed the opportunity to testify about how the many benefits of no-till could trim costs, boost incomes, curb erosion, and effectively bring idled acres back into production. To testify before our congressional committee, Frank first had to get his name on the testimony roster. He then had to show up with 100 copies of his prepared statement.
With just 10 minutes to tell the no-tillage story, Frank prepared about five pages of single space information and practiced several times to make sure he could get it done in time. According to Frank, he had to talk fast. The day he testified about no-till, committee members also heard about dairy support prices, honey production, cotton production, wildlife management, and comments on the proposed farm bill. For this No-Till Farmer Influencers and Innovators Podcast, we dug through our archives to find that speech of Frank's. And now here's Frank himself recreating his 1973 congressional debut.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. My name is Frank Lessiter and I am editor of No-Till Farmer Magazine, which is headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. With your permission, I would like to have my entire written statement inserted in the committee's record. No-till Farmer's a magazine that now circulates to over 60,000 farmers in the United States who are practicing no-till, plus farmers keenly interested in trying no-till in the future. We are a new magazine that has been in it existence since late 1972 to advance the position of no-tillage and its resulting benefits. Basically, no-tillage refers to the elimination of plowing and cultivating. It encompasses a variety of crop production systems, employing reduced or limited amounts of tillage. One USDA expert said recently that no-tillage will make as big a contribution to agriculture as hybrid seed corn did several decades ago. While that statement may appear to be a mouthful, we feel no-tillage offers such a future for farmers that this is actually an understatement.
With no-tillage, it is possible to till only an area two inches wide instead of the whole seed bed in which to place seeds. The protective mulch left on the ground has many important benefits. It conserves valuable moisture, holds soil in place, and virtually eliminates runoff of farm chemicals and fertilizers, one of the major ecology problems facing farmers today. In other words, it keeps both the soil and the chemicals in place. So no-tillage may be one way farmers can solve their ecological problems at low cost and without a loss of productivity. With no-tillage, many farmers are only making two trips across the field during the crop year. One trip is made for planting an application of fertilizer, herbicides and insecticides. The second trip is for harvesting. This is quite different from the 4 to 12 trips many farmers make across their fields during the crop year with conventional tillage. Additional trips not only added to time and cost, but further packed or pulverized the soils, reducing yields and income.
The practice of no-tillage has been growing every year since it started in the mid 1960s. State agronomists of the Soil Conservation Service estimate that 4.1 million acres of no-till crops will be planted in the United States during 1973. This will represent a 25% increase from the no-till acreage planted during 1972. The phenomenal growth of no-tillage, has probably been unequaled by any introduction of any farming practice method or piece of technology. While extra profit is involved in a rapid change to no-till crop production, conservation appears to be the primary reason for the change. I'll quickly summarize nine reasons why conservation through no-tillage has become more important to farmers and to the government. Number one, conservation of water, less soil erosion, reduced out of pocket crop production expenses, less labor, save time, less machinery costs, conservation of fuel due to fewer trips across the field, more favorable harvesting conditions and better use of land.
Number two, with no-tillage, steeply sloped land or light soils, which could not previously have been planted to row crops, can now come back into production with no-tillage. No-till has enabled many farmers to move road crop production up the hills and extremely steep slopes onto highly erodible ground. In many cases, these farmers can expand production effectively without adding more acres. Number three, the important role no-tillage can play in solving erosion problems was shown several years ago at a USDA facility near Coshocton, Ohio. During the storm, it brought five inches of rainfall in seven hours. There was a loss of 45,300 pounds of sediment per acre from a plowed and clean tilled cornfield on a 6.6% slope. On adjoining ground, no-till corn was planted down a 20.7% slope. Here, there was only a loss of 63 pounds of soil per acre.
This represents a bushel basket of soil loss for no-till, compared to a box car load of lost soil for conventional tillage. This reduction in soil runoff due mainly to the protective kill vegetative mulch on the surface of no-till fields, results in less chemical and fertilizer runoff. Number four, no-till land with its increased ground cover in mulch, not only holds the soil in place and protects it from melting rains and evaporating rays in the sun, but provides much more cover for wildlife. No-till farmers in Kentucky and Tennessee have noted that even urban hunters have wised up to this fact. They keep seeking out the no-till fields to enhance their chance for game. Number five, yields are just as good or better with no-till as with conventional tillage. Eleven years of work at Virginia Power Technical Institute shows a 20% yield advantage for no-till corn compared with conventionally grown corn.
We'll come back to Frank Lessiter's congressional testimony in a moment. But before we do so, I'd like to thank our sponsor, NewLeaf Symbiotics for supporting today's podcast. Want to do more with your fields in 2022, now available in convenient planter box application Terrasym by NewLeaf Symbiotics is proven by Beck's 2021 PFR to improve yield by 2.7 bushels per acre and soybeans, and 4.6 bushels per acre and corn, and that's $20,000 more in incremental income with every 1000 acres planted. To calculate your ROI for the 2022 growing season and purchase Terrasym directly online for only $4.35 per acre, visit newleafsym.com/2022. That's newleafsym.com/2022. Now let's get back to Frank Lessiter as he wraps up his appeal to the House Agriculture Committee.
Number six, double cropping opportunities with no-till represent the biggest profit potential for many farmers. This is where two crops are planted in the same field each year, providing farmers with two paychecks. Double cropping is being done with almost any crop you can think of today. We know of one Kentucky farmer who harvests 1800 acres of wheat, barley, soybeans and corn each year from just 1200 acres of land. He seeds barley and weed in the fall that harvest these crops in late May to mid-June. The same day he harvests these grain crops, he no-tills soybeans directly into the straw stubble. This concept has enabled him to spread out his workload during the summer months and fall months during harvest. He does it with a machinery and labor investment that is only about two thirds of what would be required for growers using more conventional tillage practices.
The same farmer has been able to average 44 bushels of wheat and 34 bushels of soybeans per acre annually from the same fields with this double cropping system. With wheat prices at $2.25 per bushel and soybean prices at $4.00 per bushel, you could earn a growth farm income of $235 per acre. This is more than twice the per acre income earned by most farmers today. Number seven, if the USDA seems interested in promoting expansion of soybean acres this year, the double cropping concept is one of the best ways to get it done. Any farmer living in the area where he can harvest small grains prior to July 4th can cash in by raising a profitable double crop of no-till soybeans. The double cropping idea for getting more soybeans makes more sense in constantly juggling the set aside acreage program for farmers.
Number eight, we support a continuation of the Rural Energy for America Program known as REAP in any legislation that Congress adopts in extending the Agricultural Act of 1970. Granted that the REAP program has had some problems in the past and that some money has been wasted in its administration and payments made to farmers, but we firmly believe some parts of the REAP program are worthy of continuation. Modernization of this valuable conservation program is more valuable than is discontinuous to both farmers and the general public. If President Nixon and Secretary of Agricultural, Earl Butz are convinced that farmers will continue with needed conservation practices with their own money, then they are certainly out of step with farmers across the nation. Farmers do not have the money available for such expenses in this day of high priced equipment, feed, and livestock, even if today's prices for farm raised goods are very favorable.
One of the modernizations in the 1973 REAP program authorized by USDA, was a no-till demonstration program. This would've allowed as many as 87,000 farmers to try no-tillage for the first time during 1973. It would've enabled up to 30 farmers per county to do this with 50% cost sharing. Unlike virtually all other programs, the no-till demonstration portion of REAP does not keep taxing tax payers year after year to renew the same desired benefits. Cost sharing would be provided only for the initial year to introduce the practice on the farm. The program is then perpetuated at the farmer's expense and he makes out with extra profit. We feel this no-till demonstration feature of the REAP program deserves a try. It can turn out to be a much cheaper way of conserving our land resources than terraces, farm ponds, drainage projects, and other programs being financed through REAP.
As a specific example of what I'm talking about, let me close by telling you about the comment made by a district agronomist of the Soil Conservation Service in Indiana last year. He said it would take 118 years at the present rate of progress to install all the needed terraces on farms in his small area of Indiana. He then added the same amount of land conservation could be done in a one year period with the adoptions of no-tillage by these farmers. When you multiply these savings by all the conservation districts across the United States, you have some idea of the potential cost savings that no-tillage could bring. But first, no-till needs to be shown to more farmers across the country. This is why our no-till farmer staff members were disappointed at discontinuous of the REAP program. We felt the no-till demonstration aspects would've helped sell the entire no-till concept to more farmers, thereby letting farmers help themselves to prosperity through double cropping no-till and better profits, rather than leaning on the federal government for prosperity.
A program such as REAP is urgently needed to speed acceptance of the no-till practice and to hasten the end of the tradition of excessive tillage and all its resulting destruction. But some kind of promotion or incentive is needed to really get it established. And finally, reason number nine, many of the ecology problems facing farmers today, soil and water erosion, herbicide runoff, nitrogen runoff problems, and other concerns, can be solved with the wide adoption of no-till. This is why we feel a no-till demonstration program, whether funded through the REAP program or not, needs to be part of any new agriculture law enacted by Congress. This we believe is a fact, no-till can do more than any other single practice to solve the many problems facing farmers today. Thank you very much.
Thanks to Frank Lessiter for sharing this look back to 1973. Reflecting on that experience, Frank says he thinks more farmers should take advantage of the opportunity to appear before both the Senate and House Agriculture Committees. In his book from Maverick to Mainstream, Frank says, quote, "Senators and representatives I've talked with say they wish more practicing farmers, and I assume fewer farm organization officials or editors like myself, would appear before their committees." Thanks also to our sponsor NewLeaf Symbiotics for helping to make possible the No-till Farmer Influencers and Innovators Podcast series. You can find more podcasts about no-till topics and strategies at no-tillfarmer.com/podcasts. If you have any feedback on today's episode, please feel free to email me at email@example.com or call me at (262) 777-2404.
And don't forget that Frank would love to answer your questions about no-till and the people in innovations that have made an impact on today's practices. So please email your questions to us at listener mail at notillfarmer.com. Once again, if you haven't done so already, you can subscribe to this podcast to get an alert as soon as future episodes are released. Find us wherever you listen to podcasts. For Frank and our entire staff here at No-Till Farmer, I'm Julia Gerlach. Thanks for tuning in