No-tilling in the U.S. often involves thousands of acres and a lot of complex decisions about seed, equipment and inputs. But for Raju Titus, simplicity is what made his farm profitable.
Tillage and an overreliance on inputs were leading to heavy financial losses for the India farmer, who in 1984 almost gave up and sold his land near Hoshangabad, Madhya Pradesh in central India. With the farm’s fate weighing heavily on them, his mother visited a rural center and a staff person gave her the book One Straw Revolution by Japanese researcher Masanobu Fukuoka. Released in the 1970s, the book helped lead a sustainable agriculture movement in several countries.
The Better India website reports Titus initially dismissed the book but eventually started trying some of the practices on his 1-acre farm. He started off sprinkling various weed and grass seeds on his fields and planted trees, and watched rain start to soak in as his farm’s soil health improved. Livestock were brought to his farm frequently due to maximum grass forage available.
Yet Titus was made fun of in the village for his no-tilling as neighboring farmers were engaging in the traditional practice of burning residue after harvest. They insisted Titus cut down subabul trees he planted because they shaded his neighbors’ fields.
But Titus’ persistence paid off when Fukuoka visited his farm in 1988, encouraging Titus to continue his pursuits.
One important practice he learned from Fukuoka was seeding crops by spreading seed pellets or “seed balls” made of one part seed mixes and seven parts is clay. Tossed into the living cover about a foot away from each other, the seed balls obtain nutrients from the soil mixed in the pellets at the time of germination. As the seeds remain on the surface they also get sunlight.
He often rolls and crimps weeds and grasses to cover his soils, which has improved soil health and returned beneficial insects to protect crops.
Titus says his soybean crops have been good both quantitatively and qualitatively and potatoes and vegetables are also possible using this system, he says. As much as 90% of his farm is now covered by Subabul trees, which he says are a natural source of urea fertilizer.
“By crimping, we are not killing the weeds and not killing the biodiversity living under this cover,” Titus, now a 31-year no-tiller, told The Better India recently. “We’re getting continuous advantages from it.”
Obviously, this system is on a very small scale. But I think this proves that outcomes are much better when no-tillers work with the environment and look in that direction for solutions, rather than reflexively engineering costly solutions in the form of iron or jugs.