How No-Tilling Can Help 'Weatherproof' Your Farm

Protective residue, proper soil management and a better understanding of how plants use water could help no-tillers and strip-tillers survive today’s extreme weather patterns.

If you ask Jerry Hatfield, the 2012 drought wasn’t just a blip on the radar screen.

While crop production mostly recovered from the drought of 1988 during the following growing season, the USDA-ARS researcher sees a long-term dry period emerging in the U.S. that is similar to the 1930s.


Wet springs with active weather patterns, followed by hot, moisture-limited summers, could be more the rule than the exception in the coming decades. But no-till systems, managed properly, could help farmers weatherproof their farm against heavy rain and scorching droughts, rather than continually becoming victims of Mother Nature.

“The drought of 2012 taught us one very important lesson: good soils and good soil management paid in spades,” he says.

Rainfall More Intense

Farms across the Midwest are already seeing a change in spring precipitation patterns, with more falling in spring than summer. In Ames, Iowa, for example, an uptick in precipitation in April and May began during the 1990s.

Research by the ARS found in Iowa a reduction in workable field days between April 1 and mid-May of 3½ days over the last 20 years due to higher numbers of significant rainfall events. Using Des Moines as another example, more and more days have been seen every year with high-rainfall events of more than 1½ or 1¼ inches.

“If you look in the early part of the 20th century, we only had 2 years that had more than 8 days with 1¼ inches of rain,” he says. “Since 1975, we’ve had…

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John Dobberstein

John Dobberstein is senior editor of No-Till Farmer magazine and the e-newsletter Dryland No-TillerHe previously covered agriculture for the Tulsa World and worked for daily newspapers in Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Joseph, Mich. He graduated with a B.A. in journalism and political science from Central Michigan University.

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