For sake of soil, sustainability, profits, expert says ‘Just say no to tillage’

For sake of soil, sustainability, profits, expert says ‘Just say no to tillage’

Posted: Tuesday, May 21, 2013 8:00 pm

Spring tillage is a tradition that is steeped deeply into American agriculture. But more and more producers are realizing that this iconic tradition is costing them — in more ways than one.
Tillage, which was once considered necessary in order to prepare a proper seed bed for planting, comes at a high price in terms of increasing diesel prices, lost time and labor costs. But according to Greg Brann, a soil health specialist with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the bigger, long-term cost may come at the expense of the health and function of the soil itself — resulting in lower yields, higher input costs, reduced drought resiliency and increased erosion for Tennessee farms.
“Tillage is incredibly destructive to the soil structure and to the soil ecosystem,” Brann said. “In healthy soil, you have 50 percent air and water — which is made possible by the pore space in the soil. But tillage collapses and destroys soil structure formed by roots, earthworms and other soil biology. This makes the soil vulnerable to erosion, compaction and runoff.”
The possibility of another dry year should also have producers rethinking their use of tillage, Brann said. “Because it destroys organic matter and soil structure, tillage actually reduces the soil’s infiltration capacity,” he said. “Additionally, studies have shown that each tillage pass can release a half an inch of soil moisture from each acre. Tillage tends to limit the availability of water in the soil, it just seals over and water doesn’t infiltrate” Brann said. “And that could prove very costly during those long, summer dry spells.”
Local producers know that cover is important to the soil by use of no-till and also cover crops. Lake County producer Ed Sumara is seeing this first hand on his fields.
“We strive for that (cover), and it pays big benefits,” said Sumara.
So before being tempted to till soils in efforts to dry them out this spring, farmers should remember that could be doing more harm than good.
Producers interested in learning more about the basics and benefits of soil health or in receiving technical and financial assistance to implement a soil health management system, should contact their local NRCS office by calling 885-6480 ext. 3 or by visiting 1216-B Stad Ave. in Union City. Additional soil health information is available at www.nrcs.usda.gov.

Published in The Messenger 5.21.13

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