Benefits of No-Till Farming

A Return To Simplicity

No-till farming is gaining in popularity in recent years as more and more farmers recognize the benefits of leaving their field’s soil undisturbed.  Essentially, a no-till farmer doesn’t turn over the soil after the previous fall’s harvest.  Really, ideally, he never turns the soil over.  Corn stover and bean trash and whatever organic matter is left in the field after harvest is just left to sit on the surface of the soil to decompose slowly into the soil profile.

no-till farming

Why Doing Nothing is Revolutionary

Letting nature take its course doesn’t sound all that revolutionary.  But, it is.  A big reason why is that the “green revolution” — advancements that let farmers grow many times more food than his family could consume — brought with it the advent of chemical fertilizers and mechanized farming.  And, a big part of mechanized farming had to do with advancements to the plow.

John Deere and The Plow

Farmers have been plowing their fields since at least ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.  The legendary farming brand John Deere started when a smith and inventor fashioned a polished steel plow which could cut through the rich, deep dark topsoil the early American farmer found in the great plains.  Previous iterations of the plow were made of cast iron and soil would stick to the sides of the plow, significantly slowing progress through the field.  Therefore, this whole idea of “no till”  seemed a bit fringe a number of years ago when forward thinking farmers began proposing and implementing its practice.

How Does No-Till Work?

The farmer will use implements on the front of his planter that sweep away loose debris that has yet to decompose from the previous year(s) to give the seeder the best chance of getting a consistent seed depth when the next year’s crop is planted.  The job of disposing of the trash left in the field after harvest is the job of the microbial life in the soil, that no-tillers are trying so hard to protect.  You see, a diverse microbial life brings lots of benefits to a soil, and can help leverage the fertility in the soil to the plants’ benefit.  Unfortunately, when you cut through the soil and turn it over, you destroy fungal hyphae, earthworm habitats and other longer lived microbial populations.

Benefits to Your Soil’s Microbial Life

By disturbing the soil as little as possible, the hope is that the soil’s microlife can take care of turning last year’s corn stover and crop trash into valuable broken down organic material in the soil and eventually increase the humus in the soil which increases water and nutrient holding capacity of the soil among other things.  Once established, the microbial life in your soil will also do a fair job of mining previously unavailable minerals in your soil profile and put them in plant available form so that your plants can take them up into their roots. And, through competitive exclusion, they can protect your plants’ root zone or “rhizosphere” from harmful predatory microbes.

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