Body of Knowledge: Digging Into Noteworthy No-Till Literature — Plowman's Folly

While conservation ag principles are very much in the news these days, a look back at the no-till literature from the past reminds us that these important concepts are not new.

In the February 2022 issue of No-Till Farmer’s Conservation Tillage Guide, retired ag engineer Randall Reeder of Ohio State University and retired USDA soil scientist Don Reicosky shared the outcomes of a survey they conducted to identify the most significant works in no-till research and literature. The list of 30 books, articles and academic papers included 15 identified by North American scholars and 15 chosen by a global contingent. In this and other upcoming issues, we will be sharing summaries and highlights from some of these works. The entire list, as well as links to many of the individual works, are available at

The Plowman’s Folly By Edward H. Faulkner, 1943

Faulkner is the grandfather of the no-till movement, and he writes like it.

It’s hard not to imagine an elderly gentleman with suede patches on a tweed coat and a pipe as Faulkner discusses his observations of the forest, and how nature tends to fill in the gaps. 

Few statements in conservation farming literature echo the power of Faulkner’s assertion “No one has ever advanced a scientific reason for plowing,” which pulled the rug out from under the centuries-long tradition of Western agriculture.

You won’t find many similar atom bombs in Faulkner’s rough recounting of how he took his observations of nature, water runoff, and even Egyptian farming inequities and molded a cohesive philosophy.

A more typical example of Faulkner’s style is found in the lead off to the third paragraph:

“The discussion (of no-till plowing) will…

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Brian o connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor started at Lessiter Media as the Lead Content Editor for Conservation Agriculture in November 2021. He previously worked in daily print journalism for more than a decade in places as far flung as Alaska and the U.S. Virgin Islands, where he shared a national award for coverage of two Category 5 hurricanes that struck the islands in 2017. He's also taught English in Korea, delivered packages for Amazon, and coordinated Wisconsin election night coverage for the Associated Press. His first job was on a Southeast Wisconsin farm.

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