Is No-Till Farming Really Better For The Environment?

Many farmers and scientists are looking into the benefits and drawbacks of no-till farming versus traditional tilling.

Farmers who use tilling actually break up the ground cover before planting crops. The broken up soil releases a great deal of carbon into the atmosphere. While the carbon has the good effect of attracting bacteria to eat it and produce nutrients, it also mixes with oxygen to create carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is, of course, a major contributor to global warming.

No-till farmers, on the other hand, plant their seeds in the spring, spray herbicide when needed, apply fertilizer, and then harvest. There is no need for a plow, and no need to emit harmful carbon into the atmosphere.

While no-till may help reduce carbon emissions, there are still critics to this farming approach. Timothy Crews, a researcher at the Kansas Land Institute, points out that no-till farmers have to use more herbicides than tilling farmers. Many of the weeds that tilling would have taken care of need additional herbicides for non-till farmers, Crews argues. Crews and other critics worry about hazardous leakage from overusing herbicides.

While people are becoming aware of no-till farming’s benefits in reducing soil erosion and releasing less carbon emissions, farming techniques should still be incorporated on a field-by-field basis for the best results.

The USDA reports that about 35 percent of farms in the USA were 100 percent no-till in 2009, and that number is expected to rise over the years.