No-Till Proves Its Worth
June 18, 2003
No-till farming can help farmers
increase yields, diversify crops and reduce soil erosion, according to a new,
12-year, Agricultural Research Service
and Colorado State University (CSU)
study that once again shows the effectiveness of this farming system.
The ARS Great Plains Systems Research
Unit and CSU, both based in Fort Collins, Colo., have shown that farmers on
the Northern Great Plains can increase their yields by switching to no-till
farming using three- and four-year rotations. That's compared to the
traditional method of tilling the soil, then using two-year rotations of wheat
the first year and then not growing crops--in other words, leaving the ground
fallow--the second year.
Using no-till experiments on three cooperators' farms in three diverse
climate zones, the researchers found the best rotation is to grow wheat one
year, corn the following (or sorghum in warmer areas), and then use no-till
fallow the third year. Also successful is a four-year rotation of wheat, corn
(or sorghum), millet and then leaving the land fallow the fourth year. The
research has found that grain production can go up by as much as 70 percent in
the three- and four-year systems, and it can increase profit by 25 to 40
percent over the traditional wheat-fallow model.
Similar results were found at ARS' Central Great Plains Research Station
in Akron, Colo. Scientists there work closely with the Fort Collins
Often, scientists have also found that farmers need not leave their land
fallow, but can plant corn, sorghum, millet or forage if soil moisture in the
spring is good and the forecast for summer rainfall is average or above.
Rain can be scarce in Colorado, but no-till helps capture precipitation and
retain the moisture in the soil better than traditional farming. That's the
primary reason for the increased yields. Also, soil organic matter levels have
risen significantly and soil erosion has been cut down, thanks to no-till
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.