No-till farming is on the rise. That’s actually a big deal.

A good review of the subject for lay people. Georgia has only one zero-till crop planter in the whole country. Given the huge fuel consumption of the elderly Belarus tractors in use in Georgia, the cost-effectiveness of no-till farming here is very attractive. Side benefits of improved soil water retention in dryland fields, better soil structure, increased soil organic matter, improved soil biology, and reduced soil erosion make it worthy of consideration. Given that many Georgian cereal cropping plots are long, narrow strips running up and down hillsides, rather than running along contours, zero-till farming may preserve valuable topsoil that would otherwise be washed away by runoff  after cultivation.

Here’s a fascinating trend in U.S. agriculture that’s been going on for the past few decades. It’s the dramatic rise … of no-till farming:

No-till farming is on the rise. That’s actually a big deal.

“No-till farming” sounds pretty dull at first. The term basically describes ways to grow crops each year without disturbing the soil through tillage or plowing.

But it’s an important idea. Plowing and tillage are major sources of soil erosion around the world — they were key factors behind the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. What’s more, churning up all that soil can release a significant amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, helping to warm the planet. So, since the 1980s, more and more American farmers (and policymakers) have started taking no-till farming seriously.

In the United States, no-till farming is now growing at a pace of about 1.5 percent per year, according to the Department of Agriculture. In 2009, about 35.5 percent of the country’s cropland had at least some no-tillage operations — though only 10 percent were full-time no-till operations. (The rest involve a selective use of no-till or a mix of techniques.)

Why did no-till farming spread? This 2008 report (pdf) in Scientific American tells the broader back story. For most of human history, farmers plowed their soil to plant crops. The advent of tractors in the 20th century made it even easier to churn up fields. But as soil erosion became a massive environmental problem around the globe, that slowly changed.

For more detail, see here at No-till farming is on the rise. That’s actually a big deal..


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