climate-column-no-tillBy Alexis Dunnum, NFU Intern

Previous NFU Climate Column posts have explained that drought and erosion from extreme precipitation are anticipated to become more prevalent if the planet continues to heat up. When tilling is avoided, the organic matter within the soil can attract and retain water. This ensures proper hydration for the plant, even during dry periods.

No-till farming serves as an alternative by preparing the land for planting without mechanically disturbing the soil. It works by chopping off the previous year’s crops, referred to crop residue, and leaving it on the topsoil. Then a no-till planter only slightly punctures the ground to insert the seeds.

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) states that some benefits to the soil from no-till operations include “increasing organic matter, improving soil tilth, and increasing productivity as the constant supply of organic material left of the soil surface is decomposed by a healthy population of earthworms and other organisms.”

An additional benefit of the no-till practice is that when the soil is not churned, it diminishes the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. Although only 7% of cropland worldwide was used to practice no-till farming in 2004, no-till participation in the U.S. has increased in recent years. According to the United Nations Environmental Program, no-tillage operations in the United States have helped avoid 241 million metric tons of carbon dioxide since the 1970s. That’s equivalent to the annual emissions of about 50 million cars.

American farmers already practicing no-till farming have benefitted from this practice and even found that they can conserve water, reduce erosion, and use less fossil fuels and labor to grow their crops, according to this USDA report on no-till farming.

Are you a farmer that practices no-till? What are your thoughts about this practice? What steps are you taking to mitigate climate change? Let us know what you think in the comments section!

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