One of the comments No-Till Farmer editors heard while pulling together material for last month’s 40th-anniversary issue was that some educators aren’t on board in promoting no-till. Such appears to be the case with Emerson Nafziger, who continues to devote considerable effort to the need for tillage.

For example, the University of Illinois Extension agronomist isn’t convinced growers can be successful with no-till in a continuous-corn program — despite the fact that numerous no-tillers have been doing it successfully for years.

No Fan Of No-Till?

As reported by one of the editors of the weekly Illinois AgriNews newspaper, Nafziger told growers at a mid-August field day that the highly touted no-till farming era has “mysteriously” failed to materialize. Despite considerable emphasis on what was once thought to be a revolutionary farming practice, he finds Illinois farmers continue to just keep tilling away.

While Illinois may possibly have more no-tilled acres than any other state, Nafziger says the trend to more no-till isn’t backed up by facts. One reason has been a significant change in the definition of what qualifies as no-till, he says.

Instead of tillage being recognized as a formal practice, as it was 40 years ago, what’s important today is the amount of residue left on the soil surface. Some farmers disc stalks in the fall, deep rip and still believe they’re no-tilling when they’re planting in the spring, he says.

More Horsepower Than Ever

Looking back 30 years, Nafziger says, folks predicted that all a grower would need is a tractor big enough to pull a no-till planter, along with a sprayer and combine.

Since that didn’t happen, he suspects there’s more horsepower per acre in Illinois today than ever before.

“We certainly have a lot bigger tractors,” he told AgriNews field editor Nat Williams. “And once you get a really big tractor, you have to get something to pull. And the equipment companies have been very happy to make more iron.”

Nafziger says more tillage was done in Illinois in the fall of 2010 than he’s seen in his 30 years on the job. Since farmers all felt great about this, he believes there was a pent-up demand to do more tillage.

Less Tillage Needed

Even though he’s not fully on the no-till bandwagon yet, Nafziger should be given credit for stating that growers should only do the amount of tillage necessary to get the job done.

Still more concerning for educators and government staffers is hearing growers who still believe in traditional tillage — “if it was good enough for dad or grandpa, then it’s good enough for me” — making it difficult to bring innovative ideas like no-till to American agriculture.

But there’s no doubt that no-till, 50 years after its introduction in the U.S., is here to stay. Anyone who thinks it’s a passing fad is out of touch with reality.