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Farm Tilling — Till Versus No-Till

To Till or Not to Till

To till or not to till, has been a question in farming circles for decades. From an economic standpoint, tilling usually wins out. However, when considering long term sustainability and environmental factors, the case for no-till farming can be made.Historically, farmers have tilled their land after harvest to prepare the ground for next year’s crops. The turning over of the soil helps to loosen the dirt making it easier to plant new seeds. Tilling is also an effective form of weed control. The roots of weeds are just waiting to sprout along with the crops. Tilling breaks apart the established weeds and forces them to start anew, making it much easier to control them. Tilling also aerates the soil, which many believe is beneficial to crop growth.

Soil Protection

Practicing no-till farming is supposed to protect the soil as well as the environment. Carbon, which is usually trapped in soil, escapes to the atmosphere when soil is tilled. No-till protects the moisture in the soil that would be allowed to evaporate when tilled. No-till also helps to reduce erosion, mostly because the compacted soil is not at risk of turning to dust and blowing away in the wind. The simple act of not running equipment to till the fields helps save large quantities of fuel.

Costs & Considerations

While there are benefits to no-till farming, there are costs related to undertaking the practice. Normal planters are not effective in piercing the hard soil of a no-till field. Therefore, more expensive planters must be purchased. Weed control is a major expense since there is a need for much larger quantities of herbicides. Pests are a problem in both till and no-till, however different pests thrive in each situation. Because of this, cover crops are sometimes needed with no-till as well as more frequent crop rotation.

No-till continues to gain acceptance, however only in the growth of certain crops. Here in the Midwest, soybeans have responded well to no-till while corn does not. Since the majority of Illinois farmland is planted in corn, our state is not anxious to make the switch to no-till planting.

Like many practices that are seen as beneficial to the Earth’s ecosystem, no-till usually results in decreased profits, especially when dealing with corn. Because of this, the government offers subsidies on no-till to encourage the practice. If the government has to come in to offset economic losses, then it’s obvious it’s not a sustainable practice. If there were evidence to support no-till farming as the absolute best way to maximize crop production while protecting the soil and environment, tilling would be a thing of the past.

Generations of experimentation have taught farmers how to best use their land. It is this ongoing experimentation that continues to improve yields as well as conservation techniques. Tilling currently holds the advantage by providing maximum profits with minimal strain on the land. Sterling Land Company can assist you in purchasing a farm so you can begin your own experimentation with till versus no-till.

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