Peter Myers, chief of the Soil Conservation Service (SCS), is a real life farmer (cultivating 1,100 acres in Matthews, Mo.) who believes in the many benefits of no-till. We believe you will find his answers to ours No-till farmer questions of particular interest.
Have you used no-till on your own farm?
mine: I struggled with no-till and botched it 10-12 years ago. Like everyone in the early days, we learned from our mistakes. We now have better machines and herbicides to make no-till work. I have since switched to conservation tillage on our farm to save time and money.
We irrigate furrows, which makes direct sowing difficult. If it weren’t for that, we would be doing a sizeable no-till.
Why is less tillage so important these days?
mine: If we can convince farmers to leave residues on the ground instead of walking on bare ground, then we’re halfway home. The most important factor in reducing cropland erosion is leaving crop residues on the soil surface. Without the mulch that nature provides through crop residues, erosion is nearly impossible to control.
Even expensive structures such as terraces and diversion ditches may not always function properly unless the soil is protected with debris.
Why should farmers switch to no-till?
mine: An important short-term benefit is the satisfaction that comes from a sense of accomplishment and good soil management. A farmer does not want to waste his land – he wants to protect it while earning a decent income. No-till allows him this.
What will make farmers switch to less tillage?
mine: Economic considerations will be decisive, as no-till often costs less than conventional tillage. In parts of Missouri, for example, conventional tillage results in annual soil losses of 40 tons per acre. Conservation tillage reduces wastage to 12 tons and costs the grower $3.50 less per acre than conventional tillage.
How quickly will minimal tillage and no-till take hold today?
mine: Adoption rates were relatively high. Reduced tillage is being accepted faster than any other practice in the history of agriculture.
Estimates for 2010 (based on previous forecasts by our No-till farmer Area surveys) put the number of hectares in conservation tillage at around 95% in just 27 years. At this point, more than 50% of US farmland is directly tilled. I think these figures for 2010 are still achievable.
Will we see changes in government cost sharing options?
mine: Both the SCS and the ASCS are exploring various cost-sharing options. We are looking at eliminating cost-sharing for patios and watersheds when no-till could produce the same soil-saving results.
What is the future of the plow?
mine: The new machines, chemicals, and techniques that made conservation tillage possible will make the plow as obsolete as the scythe and butter churn.
I haven’t owned a plow in a dozen years. In fact, we no longer chisel a plow since the heavy clay is dissipating in our yard.
The plow is a thing of the past because we don’t have to turn over the soil like we used to. Today’s farmers throw away the plow or swap it for no-till coulters.
There are a few remote areas where the farmers will probably need a breaking plow, but the quicker we get rid of them the better off we’ll be.
We have to do less farming or we’ll lose all our land. As far as I’m concerned you can take all the plows in the country and throw them on the scrap iron heap.
“Outsiders” in DC moved straight to the front
From the archives: No-till is getting more attention among soil conservationists
From the archives: No-Till increases income while conserving soil