Conservation tillage is an extremely important, yet sometimes over looked, operation in today’s highly competitive production farming practices. When people look at the advantages of conservation tillage, many would agree that it is of utmost importance to compare and choose a system that works well on their farm and that also has a positive impact on the environment. There are many different types of conservation tillage practices and each have their purposes, when used under the correct circumstances they can prove to be very effective. There are many different tillage systems to examine when looking at conservation tillage. While there are many well known conservation practices, no-till farming is increasing in popularity.
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A no-till tillage system is one in which soil is not broken or turned over prior to planting and herbicides are heavily relied on for weed control. No-till is usually used in conjunction with a crop rotation to create a system that has proven to be very practical. During the planting season a grower using this option will often make the first and only pass through a field with the planter, where as in conventional tillage a grower may plow first. This planter has usually been modified slightly or specially designed to plant in unbroken soil, rough conditions, and through tough crop residues. No-till farming has many benefits including reduced field and machinery preparation, money saved on equipment, and fuel and fertilizer costs.
The benefits of no-till farming not only apply to the farmer but also to the environment. Another issue to consider is that the residue left behind by no-till farming can drastically reduce soil erosion by both wind and water, because crop residues cover and protect the soil, much like a coat protects from the elements. Improved soil quality such as better soil-aggregate formation, microbial activity in the soil, water infiltration, water storage and increased soil organism activity have proven to be enhanced in a no-till situation. No-till practice is arguably the most environmentally friendly system known. Another benefit to consider is that no-till takes less fuel thus keeping air pollution down. This is most important at a time in which the agricultural industry-at-large must become more conscious of the environment in which we live.
Run-off is another environmental danger that we needs to be kept in mind as it can cause many problems. Sediment run-off occurs when water picks up soil particles and carries them to another location, usually a nearby stream or river. This can decrease water cleanliness and in turn can be harmful to many aquatic species. Run-off can also carry chemicals and fertilizers off the applied area and into steams and rivers. This form of run-off can also lead to serious problems as it could potentially kill off and destroy valuable marine and wetland ecosystems. However, no-till can be a solution to this problem. Mark Evans a soil and water conservation specialist with Purdue University Cooperative Extension Services and Clean Water Indiana says, “No-till is without question the most effective conservation practice for reducing soil erosion and improving water quality. The crop residue cover and infiltration rates associated with continuous no-till reduce more agricultural runoff of contaminants than other tillage systems.”
No-till farming is becoming more popular year by year due to the significant advantages, especially on larger farms where producers have many acres to cover. Dan Towery, a natural resource specialist at the Conservation Technology Information Center at Purdue University, believes that there will, more than likely, be an increase in the amount of no-till acres this year. While stating his reasoning Towery said, “When no-till is used, there is a $20 to $30 an acre decrease in production costs. Farmers have shown it works and is easy, especially with no-till soybeans.”
More and more farmers across the United States are discovering these benefits of no-till farming. For example, according to Mark Evans, “Hoosier farmers began to see the benefits of no-till in 1990, when 9 percent of corn and 8 percent of soybean fields were planted no-till. In 1995, Indiana became the first corn belt state with more than half of its soybeans planted no-till. Indiana remains a no-till leader in the corn belt. In 2000 in Indiana 21 percent of corn and 60 percent of soybeans were no-till.”
Even with all the advantages of no-till farming, certain disadvantages are certainly present. Locations to distribute manure and keep livestock through winter are major concerns of a combination livestock and grain producer. If no-till is practiced the farmer can not run livestock on unplowed fields to help offset feed cost and he has to find somewhere else to distribute his manure, which would be foolish considering manure adds valuable nutrients back to the soil at a low cost. Other disadvantages include: increased herbicide usage rate to accomplish effectiveness, increased seed cost due to increased populations, and difficulty dealing with an herbicide failure because of cultivating difficulty on no-till ground. A slower soil warm up time could also be a downfall when one remembers that large operations need to start planting early to finish before the window closes. Finally limited rotation options, especially with sod crops, add to the list of difficulties associated with no till farming.
In conclusion, tillage is an important agricultural practice not only in the United States but also in the entire world. Soil, although renewable at a rate of one inch per five hundred years, is an extremely important resource that we need to take extra care of because, for the most part, the soil we have today is the same soil future generations will have. In conservation tillage, it is important to work together to educate one another and use good practices when in the field, in order to preserve the most important element in agriculture, soil.
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