Hopefully you’re reading this edition of Dryland No-Tiller early this morning before getting onto some food, festivities and football with your family and friends.
Even though we’ve had some tough times in agriculture the last several years between never-ending droughts and disappointing markets, I hope you will find there are still some things to be thankful for.
Think about it for a minute: What was it like trying to make a living on your farm before you started no-tilling — and possibly integrated cover crops into your operation? Given the tools that exist today, what kind of success is possible now compared to what you had when you started?
No-till hasn’t just made a difference in the U.S. and Canada: It’s also becoming a source of hope in places where farmers have significantly fewer resources to work with. This week I read an interesting story about Settat, a city in Morocco that has seen its annual average rainfall decline in the last several years from 19 inches to about 12 inches.
Much of the decline is being attributed to climate change. Only 10% of Morocco’s 44 million acres of arable land is irrigated, but agriculture is still 16-20% of the country’s gross domestic product. Barley and wheat are most commonly grown in this cereal-producing region.
Depleted, eroded soils with deep rills from runoff are common themes along the 105-mile drive from the major city of Marrakesh to Settat, says author Keya Acharya, an environmental journalist and president of the Forum of Environmental Journalists in India. Roadside boxes typically used to sell fruit are mostly empty and cactuses show better health than olive trees.
But with the help of a $4.3 million grant from the global partnership Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Settat region has 350 farms using no-till practices, to preserve soils and better use available moisture.
Morocco’s National Institute of Agricultural Research (NIAR) trained farmers to use the equipment, which imported from the U.S., Brazil, Australia, Spain and other countries. Instead of raking up the soil, special drills cut a soft line in the soil at 3-inch intervals for placement seed and fertilizer. The lines are only 3-4 inches deep.
Settat farmer Bil Hassan told Acharya he gets 198,416 pounds of wheat per hectare with direct seeding on land where he used to harvest hardly anything.
After 5 years, farmers are seeing a number of familiar benefits with no-till, including improved soil health, better water-holding capacity and reduced evaporation, and less wind erosion. Yield increases in the region were expected to be 70-80% but have actually eclipsed 120%, reports allafrica.com.
Acharya says the GEF’s project has been so successful that the government of Morocco has incorporated the system as a tool for climate change adaptation in their country plans, instituting subsidy for farmers practicing the method.
The GEF funding has now stopped, but NIAR agricultural scientist Ousama El Gharras says he’s convinced the farmers won’t fall back into old ways because they’ve seen for themselves the benefits reaped. “When you show it to them live in the fields, farmers get convinced,” he says.