Although conventional tillage is practiced by a majority of American farmers, there are some considerable downsides to this type of soil management. Conventional tillage produces powdery soils that are easily eroded away, taking nutrients such as nitrogen and organic matter along with it. This loss of nutrients reduces soil productivity and requires farmers to spend more money on fertilizers. Conventionally tilled soils are also more easily compacted, which reduces soil infiltration and leads to ponding during heavy rains. These compacted soils are unable to hold water as well as less dense soils, which reduces the amount of plant available water throughout drier parts of the growing season. If you are a farmer who has experienced some of these issues, you may want to consider making the switch to a no-till soil management plan. No-till soil management improves soil health while also saving farmers time and money. In addition to these great benefits, the USDA may be willing to pay you for making the switch.
No-till improves many aspects of soil health within agricultural fields. Fields that are not continuously tilled retain the size and the strength of their soil aggregates, improving the physical structure of the soil. No-till also requires fewer passes over the field with equipment, which reduces soil compaction. Less compacted and better aggregated soil will display better infiltration and retention of rainwater, lower erosion and surface runoff, and an improved ability to retain nutrients such as nitrogen and organic matter. Ultimately, these factors allow fields to respond better to periods of drought or intense rainfall. By leaving the topsoil habitat intact, no-till cultivation will also help promote a healthy biological component of the soil, meaning more earthworms and microbial activity.
Saving Money and Time
By making fewer passes over the field, no-till can also save farmers a significant amount of time and fuel expense. According to the USDA, continuous conventional tillage requires over six gallons of diesel fuel per acre, whereas continuous no-till will require less than two gallons. This reduction in fuel cost can translate to over $8500 in savings per 1000 acres each year for no-till farmers. Since unplowed fields do a better job of retaining key nutrients, no-till farmers are likely to save money on fertilization as well.
In addition to saving money from implementing no-till practices, you may be eligible to get paid for their efforts through government incentive programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). Both of these programs, which are managed by the USDA’s NRCS division, reward farmers who take steps to improve soil health and soil retention. Farmers who implement practices that promote storage of carbon in the soil may also be eligible for tax credits under Section 45Q of the IRS code.
As federal agencies seek to offset carbon emissions into the atmosphere, more funding is going to be made available for industries with the ability to sequester carbon. Fortunately for farmers, grain crop producers are seen as “the prime candidate for major sequestration opportunities,” according to a recent report by the Bipartisan Policy Center. This same report also called for the expansion of current Farm Bill incentives programs and tax credits for farmers. Effectively, there will be more opportunities for farmers to financially benefit from implementing sustainable soil management practices.
If you are interested in learning more about no-till practices or reading some case studies from actual farmers, please see the links below. If you would like to talk to someone at EIM about applying for incentives programs such as EQIP, please call us at 317-228-0134 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Creech, E. (2017, Nov 30). Saving Money, Time and Soil: The Economics of No-Till Farming. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Retrieved from https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2017/11/30/saving-money-time-and-soil-economics-no-till-farming
Bipartisan Policy Center. (2019). Farm & Forest Natural Carbon Solutions Initiative Working Papers. Retrieved from https://bipartisanpolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/BPC-Farm-and-Forest-Natural-Carbon-Solutions-Initiative-Working-Papers.pdf