> Had some great replies to my post this a.m. on using no-till as an
> envionmentally friendly farm tool. As to be expected, London and Clark
> were not exactly enthusiasticly embracing my perspective. However,
> rather than rant about my acceptance of no-till farming (as some would)
> they both offered intelligent, reasoned arguments to the debate.
> 1. To London: Conventional tillage does indeed have tremendous
> potential for environmental damage. One need only look to the gullied
> Southern states in the first half of the century or to the infamous dust
> bowl, or the ongoing devestation in China etc.. Soil erosion is neither
> modest nor temporary (in human life terms) in many circumstances. Not
This is very true but only very inept farmers would let this happen. All
farmers in my area are acutely aware of the damage that occurs to their
land from erosion and take the necessary steps to keep it from happening.
I mentioned the Soil Saver (a very large chisel plow with a row of
coulter blades in front for pre-cutting sod so it won't bind up ahead of
the shanks) because it does a magnificent job of subsoiling and surface
tillage; it leaves behind small or no furrows, which if used correctly can
channel runoff across contours and in dry season can direct needed runoff
from sparse rainfall from non-cropped areas to cropped for absorption and
use. I probably need definitions of reduced tillage, no-till and ridge-till
so I can better respond to your argument for no-till. My hay-farming
neighbor "no-till drills" his Fall oat planting. I think this means
cutting a slice in the sod and depositing seeds therein. My other farmer
neighbor, the dairyman, describes his use of the Soil Saver as "reduced
tillage" (my words), i.e. less disruption of the soil, less erosion,
more organic matter retained. I have seen him use this implement;
weeks after applying manure to the land, when the soil is adequately dry,
as he pulls it over hundreds of acres the soil literally boils like
an ocean wave rolling in on the beach behind his tractor. Loosening the
soil to a great depth and aerating it combined with it's high organic
matter content, high N and intense microbial life create this fine farm
soil. Year after year, it only gets better. Using the Soil Saver in the
Fall when the soil is dry enough leaves the land capable of absorbing
much of the increased rain expected in the cold season with little or no
erosion. Strip cropping could effectively control any erosion that did
occur. In fact narrow-strip cropping could be really effective in this
respect, especially in hilly country; strips could be only as wide as the
Soil Saver. This man has operated in the black for decades and has never
borrowed a penny and has never done anything but dairy farm. I don't
really know how much herbicide he uses but I feel sure he keeps it to an
absolute minimum; IOW he uses it very rarely. This method I have heard of
using reduced or no till followed by cover cropping followed by burning
down the CC for mulch, then follow with notill plant grain/bean/hay seems
to me poor planning and highly destructive to the environment. Careful,
timely tillage and different cover crop schemes can eliminate most weed
problems. My first response to your proposal for no-till was to suggest
ways of using tillage to control and eliminate weeds, thus precluding the
need for herbicide. Incresed soil tilth and organic matter content also
result from this method.
> all farms are blessed with rich, loamy soils, on nearly flat fields.
> And I agree, there are probably other tillage methods that would work
I can't see any reason to work marginal farmland. And I can;t see any
reason to sell off prime farmland for residential/commercial development.
There ought to be laws .....
> for those type of farms. However, much of our productive farm land is
> rolling and it is not practical or economical to suggest that row crop
> farmers should just pick up and move to the flat, flat land of loamy
There are ways to work rolling land but it may not be possible
to accomplish miracles overnight.
> I do agree wholeheartedly that rotations are healthy for soils and crops
> alike. Monoculture is a bane on agriculture. However I disagree on
> using fallow land in a rotation except in unusual circumstances. Land
Leaving land fallow for a period is part of the weed eradication scheme I
am suggesting. You have to allow enough time for specific cover crops to
mature and crowd out undesirable competing plants. Like lespedeza some
crops don't spread readily by seed and are easily cut under for organic
matter to never or rarely return. L really covers the ground with dense
shade. I have seen it outcompete (and in poor, hard, rocky soil, too)
blackberry, honeysuckle, johnson grass, bermudagrass, rye and fescue
grass. By the time L matures, many nearby weeds will have exhausted
themselves and disappeared. Some mowing may be necessary along the way.
The soil will have had a chance to rebound as will earthworms and
> that is farmed around here is much too expensive to lay idle, and much
As I said, miracles don't always happen overnight.
> too rolling (read erosive) to be fallow tilled during the growing
I am not suggesting doing that.
> Use of cover crops, rotation with grass, and rotation of crop
> species are much more practical.
I am suggesting this also.
> I am not familiar with the tillage tool that you described. However I
> do remember seeing a demonstration of a "para plow" a few years ago that
> I thought had promise, but haven't heard much of since. The para plow
> went nearly as deep as a subsoil shank, but had "wings" at the base that
> lifted and fractured the soil above. Very narrow surface tillage, with
> similar efffects to breaking up the plow layer of soil with a
> conventional plow, as well as improving the tilth of the upper subsoil.
> Good tool when used with reduced tillage systems, it seemed.
The "para plow" soounds just like the Yeomans Plow. Farmers owe it to
themselves to have a look at the Soil Saver, the chisel plow and the
Yeomans plow. Then there are hilling and bedding implements .......
> 2. To Clark: I think I understand your thread that instead of
> growing annual row crops for beef that we should grow beef on grass
> instead. Point taken, although I've eaten both grass fed and grain
> finished beef, and much prefer grain fed. However, please remember that
> not all annual row crops are grown for (non-human) animal consumption.
> Besides many food products, annual crops such as soybeans and cotton
> provide material for other uses for instance. Row crops would continue
> to be a major portion of agriculture, even if never another grain was
> fed to a single cow.
> Also, I would tend to not accept at face value any statement that
> conventional tillage does better during dry weather than no-till,
> without knowing the circumstance. It sounds like it might be more in
> the line of an exception to the rule, rather than the rule.
> And lastly (whew!) if land is being drained with tiles, then why would
> anyone need to use no-till? Reduced tillage, or even ridge tillage
> maybe, but no-till is especially useful on rolling lands to stop soil
> erosion. Fields with subsurface tiling shouldn't have water erosion
> To all:
> While I do not ascertain that no-till is the final word in
> environmentaly sound farming, I will not throw it out just because there
> are some chemicals used. Keep up the debate folks, and lets hear from
> some others besides London, Clark, or myself!
Lawrence F. London, Jr. Venaura Farm
/intergarden /intergarden/orgfarm /ecolandtech
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