Some college professors still don’t get it when it comes to seeing the many benefits of no-till. While hundreds of thousands of growers around the world are cashing in with no-till, there are still folks who pour cold water on getting good yields without tilling.
A case in point is a recent worldwide analysis by a team led by researchers at the University of California-Davis. In a study published in Nature magazine, these researchers examined results from over 5,000 side-by-side observations from around the world that were included in 610 peer-reviewed university studies.
First, The Good News
The authors admitted no-till can improve long-term productivity, profits and food security, particularly with climate change. They recognized no-till is less time-consuming and can be more cost-effective than conventional tillage, but concluded that no-till often leads to significant yield declines.
To put it bluntly, their research methodology was flawed. They admitted that they neglected to consider the impact residue retention and crop rotation had on no-till. And with no-till leaving 55% to 75% residue on the soil surface, I don’t understand why these researchers don’t believe residue retention is a critical part of no-till. In fact, the researchers said that if they had looked at the value of residue retention and rotation, the no-till results would have been different.
Even though the researchers said there are 275 million acres of no-till in the world today, somehow these so-called experts are not convinced this is necessarily a good thing.
In regions with a moist climate and sufficient rainfall, such as in Northern Europe, the researchers calculated that no-till led to a 6% to 9% drop in yields when compared with conventional tillage. Yet when no-till, crop rotation and residue retention were combined in dry climates around the world, the authors admitted it was significantly better than conventional tillage due to more soil moisture.
A Different Picture
A recent study by the International Food Policy Research Institute looked at the benefits of no-till in an entirely different way. Some 35 years from now, this group’s staff calculated that adoption of no-till could increase corn yields in Sub-Saharan Africa countries by 31%. Widespread use of no-till with corn, rice and wheat would mean 10% fewer African people would go to bed hungry each night.
They’re Wrong, It’s Working
Unfortunately, the researchers in the California study painted a pretty bleak picture for further promotion of no-till around the world. But as No-Till Farmer readers know, it’s working in many areas, under many climate conditions, with many soil types, with many crops and many environmental conditions. Regardless of what this flawed international research project shows, no-till will play a key role in feeding the world’s ever-expanding population over the next 35 years.