Life of a Field: “To Till or Not to Till”

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“LIFE” of a Field
“To Till or Not to Till”

Now as I have previously stated, what we do is not for everybody and you have to do what works for you. However, that being said, I truly believe that no-till soil-health cover cropping systems are good systems for a lot more farmers than who actually use them. Here in union county, we are very fortunate to have a lot of farms using these systems. 80% of our agriculture acres in union county are now under a no-tillage system. Now, as with anything there are different intensities of this but that is an impressive number over all. This is not the case for all parts of the country. Not to upset anyone, but I’ve heard all of the excuses that “it doesn’t work here”, “we don’t have the right kind of soil”, “we are too far north”, “we are too far south”, the list goes on but I tried it one year and it didnt work! This is NOT a one year practice or technique – it is a commitment to a total program.

I remember many years ago seeing some of these practices and thinking these guys are crazy (maybe we all are) and this will never work. Well here we are. Cover cropping, at any level, of course can be incorporated into any system with or without tillage which I certainly encourage, but it is an investment to your soils that will continue to pay its way.

We choose not to till and this is why! It saves us a minimum of three trips over each field resulting in thousands of gallons of diesel fuel and less carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Tillage destroys the structure of the soil, which is a two fold issue. First, the disturbance allows for less water infiltration and therefore erosion occurs quicker. Erosion is 100% an infiltration issue. Second, tillage causes the release of carbon into the atmosphere. These losses can vary from 4 to 13 times greater depending on the tillage type used, as compared to zero or minimum disturbance.

In reference to soil life and tillage here’s my simple analysis: If you lived in the soil and your home was just turned upside down and drove over and cut into little pieces, if you weren’t killed during the process, it would certainly be devastating. Again there are plusses and minuses for all practices, but these are a few of the reasons why we choose no-till for our farm. I will be discussing more reasons as we continue “the life of our field” series.

– Alan Ard

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