When it comes to no-till adoption in the Great Plains and Pacific Northwest, new figures released this month from the 2012 Census of Agriculture paint a mixed picture.
Nebraska and Montana topped all U.S. states with more than 40% of their total cropland acres being no-tilled, according to the Census. South Dakota and Kansas eclipsed 30% and North Dakota came in at 29%.
Colorado registered 25% and Oklahoma 20%, but Texas (8.8%), New Mexico (6.8%) and Wyoming (3.8%) were among the lowest in the percentage of no-tilled acres. In the Pacific Northwest, Washington (10.7%) and Oregon (15.1%) also fell below the national average in no-tilled acreage.
Nationally, about 25% of the 389 million total U.S. cropland acres is no-tilled, and 44% of U.S. acres see some kind of conservation tillage. Some 10 million acres of cover crops have been seeded, the Census found.
Conditions in the Southern Plains are, indeed, not good. As drought continued to hammer central and western Oklahoma this spring, the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD) sent out a lengthy news release asking farmers not to till fields that have abandoned wheat or where summer crops may be grown.
They singled out for criticism some cotton farmers in southwest Oklahoma and western Texas who tilled dryland cotton acres for this spring planting — soil that was already starved for moisture and prone to erosion.
“We all need to think before we plow this year and make sure we aren’t opening ourselves up to major soil erosion problems,” says OACD president Kim Farber. “We don’t need to re-learn the lessons of the 1930s.”
To move the no-till needle a little more in some states, it’s likely going to take grassroots peer pressure in the farming community. Successful no-tillers must stand up and share their stories on how they’ve made a no-till system work on their farm.
It’s not easy facing the inevitable skepticism about no-till at the local coffee shop. But consider that if early adopters of no-till quit 50 years ago at the first sign of criticism or doubt, we wouldn’t have 96 million acres of no-tilled crops today.
Here are three talking points OACD shared that you can use when someone argues with you about no-till:
• No-till requires 3 to 4 gallons less fuel per acre to produce a crop.
• More than 1 inch of water is lost from the top 15 inches of cultivated soil after the first pass with tillage equipment.
• Each 1% increase in soil organic matter made possible through no-till triples the moisture-holding capacity of the soil.
There’s 96 million acres of proof that no-till works. Certainly, no-till is worth defending and there is plenty of room for more growth.