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When it comes to the future of the planet, Rattan Lal doesn’t beat around the bush. “Increase no-till farming practices across the planet or face serious climate, soil quality and food production problems in the next 20 to 50 years,” says the soil scientist at Ohio State University.
Besides protecting the environment, Lal maintains the increased use of no-till will buy the world up to 50 years of extra time to find needed alternatives to costly fossil fuels.
His warning is based in part on the fact that no-till helps retain valuable carbon in the soil. As a result, healthy no-tilled topsoil contains carbon-enriched humus that is formed from decaying organic matter that provides valuable nutrients to growing plants. By comparison, soils low in humus can’t maintain the carbon-dependent nutrients that are essential to healthy crop production, resulting in costly erosion, the need for more fertilizer and the damage of carbon to the environment.
Soil loses most of its carbon content during plowing, releasing tremendous amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. And Lal points out that increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have been associated with global warming and other types of climate change.
Since the mechanization of agriculture began a few hundred years ago, scientists estimate that 78 billion metric tons of carbon once trapped in the soil have been lost to the atmosphere. Lal and fellow researchers estimate that no-till is practiced on only 5 percent of all the world’s cultivated cropland. Even so…