By 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!
Like what you’ve read? Check out our Climate Leaders home page, join the conversation in the NFU Climate Leaders Facebook Group, and keep up-to-date with NFU climate action by signing up for the mailing list.
Farmers can help in climate change mitigation. Our farming practices is one of the major contributor to carbon in the atmopshere but if no-till farming strategy will be adopted, our agricultural soil can become a carbon sink rather than a carbon source.
Hi, I’m a gardener, not a farmer. I’ve had the opportunity to sit in on some fantastic conferences about industry, soil science, climate change, etc.
I once watched a soil scientist show pictures of what appeared to be family graves that were 3 feet higher than the rest of the surrounding fields. The scientist went on to explain that the 3-foot description was caused by all the organic matter that had been consumed by the microbes over 150 years of tillage. As the soil is exposed to oxygen-rich air microbes in the soil are able to multiply rapidly and consume the organic matter in the soil. He also proved that the best natural phenomenon of carbon sequestration occurs naturally in the Prairie, as it is deposited in the soil by the roots of Prairie plants. The natural accumulation of carbon, especially in organic material, has made the Midwest so successful because soil can be very rich in minerals, but without the presence of organic matter tends to be heavy clay and subsequent soil compaction. In cases such as heavy soils, the presence of minerals is not as important if they are in sandy soils. So composting or microbial breakdown of organic matter for nutrients is a problem when soil drainage is fantastic and nutrient retention is low. And organic matter in heavy soils improves drainage by adding physical structure in the form of dead plant material that allows water to migrate through the soil.