From GENE LOGSDON
It was just a couple of handfuls of soil and a few drops of water, but for the world of modern farming, it might as well have been a bomb dropping on the staid headquarters of the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Washington. It actually happened, or at least first made the news, in Wilmington, Ohio, at the third annual Ohio Grain Farmers Symposium. In a news article about the meeting, in Farm and Dairy magazine, there’s a picture of a farmer and a scientist looking intently at a tabletop demonstration of soil porosity in samples of tilled soil and “no-till” soil. The result, and I quote: “The no-till samples provided more resistance to water infiltration while the tilled samples provided much less resistance and water moved more freely into the soil.”
I grabbed the phone and called Chris Kick, the farm reporter and journalist who broke the story, to make sure this was not a mistake and that I was interpreting the results correctly. “I think you’re telling me that tilled soil actually saves more plant nutrients and results in less water runoff and erosion than no-till soil,” I said. He sort of laughed. “Well, this is going to be open to various interpretations, I’m sure, but yes, that’s what the experiment was demonstrating.”
It will be fun to watch how the National Resources Conservation Service (no longer the Soil Conservation Service which is not surprising since conserving soil no longer seems to be its primary function) hem-haws its way out of this one. This is absolute heresy, overturning the pious claim about how no-till is such a good conservation practice. Officialdom in agriculture has put all its money on no tillage, that is planting crops with little or no cultivation of the soil, as the salvation of farming, even saying in some instances that “we have licked erosion” which I think is the biggest lie since the one about how “we have licked inflation.”
If this scientific demonstration is true, it could explain three “phenomena” that have appeared over the last few years in our corn and soybean fields. 1.) Many of us have observed an increase in the number and size of temporary ponds that are occurring in our leveler fields after rain. 2. Even more of us notice that after rain, our creeks flood more often and more severely than used to be the case. 3). Everyone has observed and scientists have documented the alarming increase in nutrient runoff, especially of phosphorus, into lakes and rivers. Could it be, in all these cases, that no-till farming is the culprit?
I am crowing in a very unseemly fashion because I have been saying this for years and because the very function of so-called no-till today is proving that I (and many others) might be right. Almost all farmers, in my neck of the woods anyway, are finding it necessary to do quite a bit of soil tillage but because they use a “no-till” planter, NRCS allows them to act out the farce of saying they are practicing no tillage. In fact, in my observations, and I was pleased that Chris Kick more or less agreed with me, more and more “no-till” farmers are tilling their soil quite a bit before planting. They are using traditional tools like disks and chisel plows and new ones like so-called vibra-shank tillers that loosen the soil up without turning it over. The reason they are doing all this is that truly no-tilled soil tends to firm up in density and compact not all that much different than the old evil plow pan that comes with too much soil tillage.
This is not nature at work; this is human technology at work, all in a vain attempt to free most of the people from having to help grow the food. My conclusion, as always: Until nearly everyone accepts the responsibility of food production without employing gigantic machinery and animal factories, just as they accept the responsibility of scraping food residue off their teeth every day without using a bulldozer, we will not learn how to avoid the collapse of civilizations.