In explaining why his no-tilled fields looked so much better than those of his neighbors across the road that were extensively tilled, Roberto Peiretti indicated it was because he had simply “done nothing” while others worked their ground. That’s how the leadoff speaker at this winter’s 28th annual National No-Tillage Conference (NNTC) described how he hadn’t done any tillage, which was the reason his soybeans looked so good. Improvements in water infiltration in the no-tilled fields was still another reason.

40 Years of Success

A founding member of the Argentina No Till Farmers Association, which championed the need for no-till, Peiretti has developed a high-powered systems approach to no-till that he’s used successfully over the past 40 years in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. The keys have included the use of diversified crop rotations, cover crops, effective fertilizer use/placement, water management and sequestering carbon with wheat, soybeans and corn.

Much of the rapid no-till adoption in South America goes back to what these growers learned from University of Kentucky agronomists and other U.S. educators who made numerous trips to Brazil and Argentina in the 1970s and 1980s.

93% No-Till

As data in the No-Till-Age chart at left indicates, South American farmers adopted no-till at a much faster rate than U.S. growers. An astounding 93% of Argentina’s crops are no-tilled today, with adoption in Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay not far behind. In fact, Brazil now produces 23% more soybeans than the U.S., most of which are double-cropped behind wheat. Thanks to their widespread adoption of no-till and increased production, they’ve become a very serious competitor with U.S. grown beans in the export market.

Like grain growers around the world, the South Americans saw the need to become much more efficient. Peiretti says that since 1960 their farmers have seen grain prices drop worldwide for corn by 59%, soybeans by 52% and wheat by 65%. During these past six decades, the global production of corn has risen by 435%, soybeans by 1,190% and wheat by 215%. 

These figures showed South American growers the many benefits of no-tilling in order to become more efficient and competitive.

No-Tilling for the Future

Right from the beginning, South American growers placed the emphasis for no-till on saving dollars while harvesting higher yields rather than trying to sell the reduced tillage concept based on soil loss or protecting the environment. They saw no-till as a way to not only increase productivity, but also to build profitability in a sustainable manner while repairing the excessive soil damage of the past. 

“If we achieve the goal of developing the capacity to provide enough food for all humanity in a sustainable way with no-till, farmers will have a happier life and at the same time we will be constructing a better future for our children,” Peiretti told NNTC attendees.