When our forefathers first sailed to this country and started working American soil for food, they had no idea that their methods were actually hurting the productivity of the soil. After all, the vast prairies of this continent had millions of years to build up proper carbon, nitrogen and potassium levels. If tilling the soil was actually draining those nutrients and hurting its productivity, it certainly wasn’t apparent to early settlers.
Fast forwarding to today, those affects are starting to surface. University studies continue to prove that tilling the soil reduces organic matter levels that are so vital to good crop production.
“When the early farmers first opened the prairie they did what I like to call ‘mining nutrients,’” says Dean Martens. “They tilled to release nutrients and organic matter and essentially ‘mined’ them out of the soil.”
Martens, an agricultural research service scientist at the National Soil Tilth Labs in Ames, Iowa, has spent years studying the affects of tillage on nutrient and organic matter levels.
“Now we’re starting to notice yields going down. More fertilizers are required, drought stress is a problem in areas that in the past didn’t have drought stress,” says Martens. “A lot of it has to do with loss of organic matter.
“As we move toward no-till and away from conventional tillage, we’re moving in the other direction. Instead of mining nutrients, we’re starting to store nutrients into the soil.”
Martens has heard the common problems and complaints from area no-tillers…