The editors of No-Till Farmer weren’t the only ones disappointed with Ohio State University Extension’s recent article suggesting no-tillers till their fields to handle certain problems. In addition to the comments received on managing editor Laura Barrera’s column, other readers shared their thoughts on the Ohio’s County Journal website and No-Till Farmer Facebook page

“How about soil loss and nutrient movement into our streams, lakes and Rivers and the millions spent to remedy this? Conservation of moisture during hot dry weather, time, labor, equipment investment, loss of organic matter. These are all advantages farmers gain from eliminating tillage where they can.

“Yes it takes a little more management but the rewards are priceless.” 

— Bill Haddad

“Nutrient loss can come from no-till just as easily. In a 50-kilometer trip this fall, I counted 136 violations — more than half were from no-till fields that were planted and sprayed over the edge of the ditch. We need to stop thinking in terms of till and no-till and just focus on doing things right. We need to stop thinking conservation and think regenerative. Never leave soil bare — cover crop or double crop everything."

— Jim Boak, Salford Machinery

“Yes, no-till does provide habitat for insects, but it also provides habitat for predators that will attach these insects. That is what Paul Harvey would call the rest of the story.”

— Don McClure, retired from the NRCS

“That is amazing. I had no idea that plowing resulted in no pathogens, no weeds, no insects and no agronomic issues. So let me get this straight: if I plow there is no need for seed-applied insecticides, nno need for herbicide applications, no need for fungicide application, no agronomic issues (crusting, compaction, ponding) and no need to install subsurface drainage. Someone should tell “the tillage farmer” and their agronomist about this revelation, because “the tillage farmer” appears to apply more insecticide, herbicide, fungicide and tile than any no-tiller (zero-till).

“Where are the bullet points listing all the potential problems to tillage? By excluding "a list of potential problems associated with tillage," these "experts" appear ignorant or biased. Every farmer and every agronomic system has potential problems, as well as benefits. It’s the mindset that we approach a seemingly insurmountable challenge with that usually determines success. 

“The National Center for Water Quality (Heidelberg) can substantiate the reduction of sediment loads and particulate P as a result of conservation tillage (i.e.: no-till) systems.”

— Submitted anonymously

“Where to begin? The authors have glossed over, ignored and even incorrectly analyzed the characteristics and consequences of tillage and zero-till resulting in misleading readers to incorrect conclusions. The responders have all made accurate points in helping to correct or include facts the authors omitted. Here are a few more:

“1. Drainage. The authors conclude tillage can improve drainage. Reality is that any improvement is short lived. Rain, erosion and field traffic will not only quickly remove any drainage benefit from tillage, but will result in overall reduced drainage through destroyed soil structure. This necessitates another round of tillage, creating a death spiral. 

“2. Pathogens and insects. As one of the respondents noted, the authors gathered only half of the story. I’d say they have only half of half. As the respondent noted, there are also good insects than can control pests. Tillage kills them. The other missed half: crop rotation. Let’s stop trying to make tillage do what it can’t: control pathogen and insect build-up from years of short crop rotations. It doesn’t matter if you till or not, if you do years of continuous corn you will have issues. Pests have even figured out the corn-bean rotation. We need to get more complex by adding more crops. 

“3. Long-term consequences. Eventually, every loan comes due, with interest. The authors pointed out short-term benefits of tillage (in some cases such as drainage the benefits could be as short as a few weeks), but glossed over the production impacts of soil erosion and declining soil health. When solving any farm cash flow issues, a short-term loan can always help. But looking from the perspective of long-term farm profitability, paying back loans and interest from the past can destroy the viability of a farm, especially if you don’t figure out a way to make the farm profitable on its own. I should know, as a son of an auctioneer I watched farm after farm succumb to built-up debt burdens from the past that eventually caught up. It is much better, albeit more challenging mentally, to solve problems without causing bigger problems in the future.”

 — Ryan Stockwell, National Wildlife Federation, Senior Ag Program Leader

“Tillage shouldn't even be in the same sentence as a farming practice. When you look at a natural prairie grassland, do you see tillage? How Ohio State says that tillage can be effective for biennial and perennial weed control is absolutely incorrect. If you want to increase weeds in your cropping system then yes, you should adopt a tillage practice. I don't know anyone in their right mind that says they want more weeds in their field. When you look at a conventionally tilled field you see a TON of weeds, Why? Weeds are Mother Nature's way of having a living root in the soil at all times. It is our job as no-tillers and cover croppers to imitate nature in the best way possible. How often do you see problem weeds such as waterhemp, marestail and Palmer amaranth in a natural prairie grassland? Not very often. Nature handles that system absolutely perfect. It is the same way with insects as well. 

“Then on the topic of soil drainage. Tile is one of the worst things to do to your fields as well. When they install drain tile and pattern tile a field they are putting that tile at 3-4 feet deep for the best effect of drainage. Where do plants pull water from? Your flirting with that range of plant-available water. So why would you spend extra money to take out water that could be taken up by your cash crops or cover crops? Back to Mother Nature, does Mother Nature install tile? No. Nature has a system that has worked for hundreds and hundreds of years. Then we as mankind come here and think we are going to change it? The second you start to go against Mother Nature the faster she will turn around and bite you in the butt. 

“We immigrated to America. Why? Because in Europe, we as farmers there have degraded that resource for thousands of years ripping it up every year and draining that soil of every ounce of energy it had to give. So we immigrate to the U.S. and continue the same practices here. Why did they succeed? In the U.S., especially Central U.S. through the grain belt we had Natural prairie grasslands. Warm and cool season grasses and broad-leaf plants growing all the time and making the most fertile soils in the world. 

“You ask any conventional farmer right now, I guarantee a lot of them are hurting to make ends meet with how much inputs cost, and how much they are getting out of their conventional field, it is very hard to make a $1. Many growers are looking for a different solution so they can continue their farming practices. That's where no-till and cover crops come into play and help them succeed and be profitable again. Yes, it is going to take a few years to regenerate the system that has been degraded for so many years. If you can get a grower to establish a no-till and cover crop practice with an added diverse crop rotation after 5 years, I guarantee they will never go back to their original ways. 

“For everyone that is already partaking in the Regenerative Revolution with the use of no-till, cover crops and diverse rotations, stick with it and don't let anyone tell you different because what you are doing is right. You have to be able to combat the naysayers. There are many great marketing specialists out there for selling tile to added fertilizer, insecticide, pesticide and herbicide. It is your job to question their reliability. Keep up the great work.”

— Brad Schmidt

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