No Till Farming – The Pros And Cons

Climate change is upon us, or so so the scientists say. Yeah, there are plenty of naysayers out there too, it's often difficult to know who is right and who is wrong.

But even going back 10 years, the debate on climate change, soil quality and food productions methods were being talked about, argued over and plenty of inaction took place. In 2007 a warning appeared in the journal Science, warning of the issues ahead.

At that same time, Rattan Lal, the lead author of that paper and the director of the carbon management and sequestration center at Ohio State University talked a lot about the potential benefits to the planet of a no-till farming approach to agriculture. I want to discuss no till farming a little as it's something I have been super interested in since I read The One Straw Rebolution by Masanobu Fukuoka some 10-12 years ago.

No till farming pros and cons of plowing the soil into a wasteground as shown in this picture

What Is No Till Farming?

No till farming is a method of agriculture where the the farmer plants seeds with using a plough or some other mechanical method to turn the soil. No-till farming helps retain the carbon in the soil, which is lost in vast quantities during the traditional ploughing process.

Healthy top soil contains humus, decayed organic matter that is rich in carbon and provides nutrients to plants. It also aids with moisture retention in the soil, reducing the risk to crops during drier periods.

Soils with a low humus content can't retain the nutrients that the plants so desperately need. This results in farmers having to use more artificial fertilizers on the land, as well as the erosion of topsoil due to wind and other climatic conditions.

Why Do Farmers Plough/Plow?

Plough blades

Enter yoFarmers tend to plough/plow/till soil for a number of reasons, including weed reduction and eradication, to make it easier to apply fertiliser and pesticides, and also to plant crops.

Tilling the soil does actually have some benefits, certainly at first glance. It helps enrich the toil by speeding up the decomposition of remaining crops, weeds ad other organic matter that may be lying on the surface.

But as is often overlooked, a risk vs benefit analysis should really take place, and there is more and more evidence emerging that the benefits of a no-till agricultural system outweighs the potential disadvantages.

The mechanization of farming started a few hundred years ago, and scientists have estimated that some 78 BILLION tons of carbon that was once trapped in the soil has been lost into the atmosphere as CO2 gas. That's frightening!

Rattan Lal and his colleagues estimated that only 5 percent of the world's cultivated cropland is used for no-till farming, and that in the USA, 37% of the cropland is no-till.

Lal stated that, "if every farmer in the USA would adopt no-till farming and utilize crop rotation and other good practices, such as cover crop planting, around 300 million tons of soil carbon could be sequestered each year.

My Opinion

Although large scale no-till farming is not going to fix the problem of fossil fuel use and the ever growing demand for energy, but where it can be used, it should be. After all, if we only focused on the fact that no-till will help us retain millions of tons of topsoil every year, and help to increase the nutrients in the soil, it has to be the way to go.

I believe that the 'we've always done it that way' mentality prevails, and there is little support from goverment to assist farmers in improving their farming practices.

Subsidies are still being handed out to large scale commodity cropping corporations with little requirement for them to improve their practices. Perhaps tying the two together would push some of these corporations in the right direction.

Until then, I think the focus of us as homesteaders is to learn composting and how to grow our own food and minimise our reliance on cereal crops, where a lot of the problem lies.

Doing our own little bit, and spreading the word about homegrown food, voting with our wallets so to speak, will, eventually have an effect.

We have to say no to large scale, unsustainable farming practices that are damaging the planet for future generations, our kids and grandkids.

Thanks for listening 🙂

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