It’s interesting to look back at the dramatic increase we’ve seen in no-tilled acres since No-Till Farmer was launched in 1972. And data from the recently released 2012 U.S. Census of Agriculture has allowed our staff to take a close look at the tremendous increase in the number of no-tilled acres over the past 40 years.

Back in 1972, the No-Till Farmer editors estimated there were 3.3 million acres of no-till in the U.S. By 2012, the no-tilled acres had increased to 96.4 million acres. The No-Till-Age chart below shows the steady growth that we’ve seen since 1972.

Four Decades Of Data

From 1972 through 1988, our editors asked the state conservationists of the Soil Conservation Service (now the Natural Resources Conservation Service) for their best guesses as to what the no-till acreage was in each state.

From 1989 to 2004, the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) conducted a survey with NRCS funding to obtain tillage practices data in all 3,092 counties in the U.S. After federal funding for this project was cut off, CTIC conducted surveys from 2007 to 2008 in a limited number of counties and projected the data.

For the first time in 2012, farmers were asked in the U.S. Ag Census to provide data on no-tilled acres. This data led to the 96.4 million acres of no-till for 2012.

In 1972, no-till made up less than 2% of the total tilled acreage, followed by minimum tillage with 13% of the acreage and conventional tillage at 85%.

By 2012, no-till had increased to 24.7% of the total U.S. crop-production acreage of 389 million acres. Another 20% of the acres were farmed with other conservation-tillage practices. Based on the 2012 Census of Ag data, this left about 216 million acres that are still being farmed with intensive tillage.

Over all 40 years, Maryland farmers have had the highest percentage of acres being no-tilled. The figure was 39.1% of the total farmed acreage in 1972 and increased to 54.9% in 2012.

Plenty Of Progress

In 1972, there were 11 states with over 100,000 no-tilled acres and most were located in Eastern states and the Corn Belt where rainfall was plentiful. But that had changed by 2012 when five out of the top half-dozen states for no-till acres were located in the Great Plains area where precipitation is often limited.

So we’ve come a long way in the past 40 years when it comes to saving soil, labor and energy with no-till. Even so, there’s still plenty of opportunity for future no-till growth as environmental and economic pressures continue to take place in American agriculture.

To see how your state and other states have dramatically expanded the no-till acreage over the past 40 years, check out a chart on the No-Till Farmer Web site. Go to to check out these no-till acreage comparisons.