No-Till Versus Organic Debate Heating Up, Lines Being Drawn

No-till supporters acknowledge increasing public sentiment for organic farming but say science, despite faulty research, still shows that no-till is better.

Shots are being fired in what could conceivably grow into a battle between no-tillers and organic farmers for federal funding and consumer food dollars. Both sides are claiming the high ground for their path to sustainable, profitable farming, and no-tillers aren’t backing down as organic farming advocates gain a foothold with the general population and even an occasional researcher.

Although observers outside the farming industry might see no-tillers and organic farmers as two groups committed to environmentally sound methods of growing crops — a perception that might be correct if you judge by intentions — it isn’t possible for both groups to be correct in practice.

No-tillers hate to till the soil, and they rely heavily on chemical inputs to control weeds, insects and diseases and to fertilize their crops. Organic farmers despise chemicals and routinely plow under the threats to their crops; manure is their fertilizer of choice. While it’s possible to blend organic and no-till farming on a small scale by relying on hand weeding, that’s not practical for large-scale farming, and it’s difficult to work manure into the soil without tillage.

As supporters of both groups increasingly face off, the loudest shots so far may have been fired by the Center for Global Food Issues (CGFI), an arm of the Hudson Institute. The institute is a Washington, D.C.-based, non-partisan policy research organization founded in 1961.

The CGFI, based in Churchville, Va., says it works to promote free trade in agricultural products for both economic efficiency and environmental…

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