As U.S. lawmakers continue debate on the Farm Bill this week, inevitably this question comes up: should the government further subsidize no-till practices?
Since no-till is growing across the U.S. you’d think subsidies would be unnecessary. But as we continue to struggle with nutrient loading in watersheds and dust storms menacing parts of the southern Plains, are incentives the answer to push for change more quickly without passing regressive laws?
Scott Yahnke, a farmer from Nebraska, sent a letter to the Omaha World-Herald recently calling for subsidies for growers utilizing no-till in the state, especially in parts of Nebraska vulnerable to wind erosion. He says dust storms plaguing the York, Neb., area recently were causing by tilled fields or those being tilled when winds came up.
“Might as well sow seed by throwing it aloft,” Yahnke wrote. “I do realize this is a touchy subject, but why would anyone want his or her topsoil blowing to the Great Lakes or North Dakota, anyway?”
No-till and residue management is already on the list of practices eligible for EQIP funding, which the Senate version of the Farm Bill leaves intact, along with other conservation programs. The Senate bill also authorizes a “soil health and income protection” program to assist landowners with conserving and improving soil, water and wildlife resources. The cost of the program isn’t listed.
It seems to me that the labor, fuel and input savings possible through adopting no-till systems should be enough of an incentive, especially since there are so many more educational resources available today to help growers implement no-till than there were decades ago.
Rather than expanding the government’s influence in farming, perhaps the answer is better execution of the programs already on the books, and more targeted information campaigns touting the financial and environmental benefits of no-till.