While he doesn't pretend to be an expert on no-tillage, Jim Budzynski has been around agriculture a long time. As a result, the Carmel, Ind., agronomist and soil scientist has developed four “E” barriers to the adoption of any major change in agricultural practices.
A staffer at MacroGain Partners, a consulting and investment firm involved with helping businesses develop ag strategies, Budzynski says the four critical factors affecting a change to no-till include:
Emotional — A farmer’s comfort with doing things differently.
Economic — Proven data that demonstrates it actually pays to do something differently.
Ergonomic — The physical capability to do the practice differently, such as new equipment, fertilizers and pesticides.
Ecological — A thorough knowledge of the biological impacts and barriers to changing how things are done, such as pest control.
“When no-till was first contemplated, the barriers were largely emotional, as generations of farmers used to ‘clean’ fields struggled with how you could farm with less tillage,” says Budzynski. “Economics is closely related to the emotional barrier, so even when you show farmers that it costs less to park the big equipment, there is still an emotional attachment to the old practices. And the big ag-equipment companies have been somewhat ambivalent here as well, since high-horsepower tractors and huge implements represents big business for them.”
When the initial efforts were made years ago toward true no-till, Budzynski says a host of ergonomic and ecological barriers came up.
“We didn’t have the equipment that could get good seed-to-soil contact in true no-till, and diseases and cold soils caused early failures,” he says. “Yet these initial challenges moved the industry toward minimum tillage, which gave growers some — but not all — of the economic benefits of no-till, while being easier to manage in the ergonomic and ecological realms.”
He believes continuous no-till growth will require continued development of specialty equipment to overcome ergonomic challenges. Acceptance of new pesticides and advanced seed treatment packages also means many technological challenges can be solved.
As a result, Budzynski says the challenge in expanding no-till acres may return to two traditional barriers for acceptance. These are emotional instances, such as, “we tried that once and it didn’t work,” along with economic considerations that question whether there are sufficient savings in moving from minimum tillage to no-till.
Changes Coming Fast
Budzynski believes there will be an increased focus on profitability, rather than efficiency. “Equipment and tillage practices will be evaluated as energy costs rise and new technologies arise, which makes true no-till possible,” he says. “Larger-acreage farmers who spend little or no time on a tractor will be less driven by emotion and more by economics.”