When it comes to ranking the most important developments in American agriculture over the past 75 years, a panel of conservationists recently placed no-till right at the top of the list.
This discussion took place a few weeks back as the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) in West Lafayette, Ind., celebrated its 30th anniversary. Back in 1982, over 40% of the nation’s cropland was eroding at an alarming rate and most growers were still relying on moldboard plows and heavy discs for tillage.
The goal was to provide a central clearing house where farmers, suppliers, government agencies and organizations could find the latest conservation information. The group has lived up to its goal, as CTIC serves as a model of what can be accomplished around the world.
Right from the start, the group saw many advantages of getting more farmers to no-till. In 1982 when CTIC become a reality, 11.5 million acres were no-tilled, an increase from the 3.3 million acres no-tilled in 1972 when No-Till Farmer was started. The latest USDA survey places the no-till acreage at 88 million acres in 2009.
During the meeting, no-till was named as the most significant conservation development since World War II. Yet other nominations show the importance of taking a no-till systems approach.
Veteran no-tiller Bill Richards from Circleville, Ohio, placed no-till at the top of his list of developments in American agriculture. Richards and his sons have been no-tilling for 40 years and the former chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) says no-till lets them boost yields while trimming costs.
“Planting is getting much easier with no-till, and the practice has allowed the country’s farmers to provide more affordable food and fuel to the nation,” says Richards. “A key no-till benefit is that rain falls on residue rather then on bare soil, which dramatically reduces soil erosion.”
Bruce Knight has been no-tilling for 10 years on the family’s farm in South Dakota. “We saw the real benefits of no-till in this year’s drought,” says the conservation consultant in Washington, D.C.
Knight says the major change in his family’s farming operation occurred when his Dad sold the workhorses.
“With mechanization, farmers didn’t have to use 20% of their crops to feed the horses,” he says. “The result was that we could provide more food at a reasonable price to feed a growing nation.”
Other areas named by the panelists as being critical to the development of no-till include crop genetics and traits, GPS technology, weed control, farm equipment safety and water management.
With tightening crop supplies, Knight says more no-till acres are needed to provide the world with reasonably priced food, fiber and fuel. “We must improve ag production to be sustainable which is economics, productivity and being socially responsible,” he says.
That’s something no-tillers have been doing for decades.