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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: No-till: The Quiet Revolution

Authors
item Huggins, David
item Reganold, John - WSU

Submitted to: Scientific American
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: August 1, 2007
Publication Date: July 1, 2008
Repository URL: http://www.ars.usda.gov/sp2UserFiles/Place/53482500/DavidHuggins/NoTill.pdf
Citation: Huggins, D.R., Reganold, J.P. July 2008. No-till: The Quiet Revolution. Scientific American pp. 70-77.

Interpretive Summary: In the past several decades, an increasing number of farmers globally have been turning to no-till farming to capture efficiencies in crop production, saving money, time and energy; to stop the loss of valuable topsoil by erosion; and to curb the runoff of sediment, fertilizers, and pesticides into rivers, lakes and eventually oceans. Despite benefits of no-till, adoption world-wide remains low at less than 7 percent. We present a balanced evaluation of the sustainability of no-till agricultural systems describing advantages and disadvantage. We explore challenges including different equipment, pest management strategies, crop rotation and fertility management, all of which contribute to a steep learning curve for farmer adoption. The future of no-till farming will grapple with issues such as global climate change, population growth, hunger and food nutrition, energy conservation and bio-fuels, environmental degradation, endangered species, pesticide use, genetically modified organisms and crop diversification. No-till is not a cure-all; rather, no-till is a component of a larger vision of sustainable agriculture that is continually evolving and where diversity of farming methods from no-till to organic is healthy. Future no-till farming will need to employ more diverse pest management strategies, including biological, physical and chemical measures to lessen the threat of pesticide resistance. Greater diversity of economically viable crops would also advance no-till farming and its adoption. We also see a future need to move away from annual, primarily monoculture farming, such as current wheat- and corn-based production, towards integration of perennial grains, organic production practices, and precision technologies into no-till and conservation tillage systems.

Technical Abstract: In the past several decades, an increasing number of farmers have been adopting no-till farming to capture efficiencies in crop production, saving money, time and energy; to stop the loss of valuable topsoil by erosion; and to curb the runoff of sediment, fertilizers, and pesticides into rivers, lakes and eventually oceans. Despite benefits of no-till, adoption world-wide remains low at less than 7 percent. We present a balanced evaluation of the sustainability of no-till agricultural systems describing advantages and disadvantage. We explore these challenges including different equipment, pest management strategies, crop rotation and fertility management all of which contribute to a steep learning curve for farmer adoption. The future of no-till farming will grapple with issues such as global climate change, population growth, hunger and food nutrition, energy conservation and bio-fuels, environmental degradation, endangered species, pesticide use, genetically modified organisms and crop diversification. No-till is not a cure-all; rather, no-till is a component of a larger vision of sustainable agriculture that is continually evolving and where diversity of farming methods from no-till to organic is healthy. Future no-till farming will need to employ more diverse pest management strategies, including biological, physical and chemical measures to lessen the threat of pesticide resistance. Greater diversity of economically viable crops would also advance no-till farming and its adoption. We see a future need to move away from annual, primarily monoculture farming, such as current wheat- and corn-based production, towards integration of perennial grains, organic production practices, and precision technologies into no-till and conservation tillage systems.

Last Modified: 9/2/2014
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