Modern farm practices are for the most part highly unsustainable. The Dust Bowl of the 1930's demonstrated how important responsible farm practices are for a healthy America, but still the majority of American farms continue to farm in ways that damage soil.
No-till farming minimizes the disturbance to the soil necessary for farming. Not only that, but it reduces labor costs, conserves water, and reduces pollution.
For these reasons, we believe the Federal Government should subsidize No-Till Farming practices across America.
Today, agriculture is in need of drastic change. Many people are beginning to take this issue seriously by implementing more responsible farming techniques. In particular, we at Eco-Harvest are dedicated to spreading the practice of no-till farming. No-till farming is a method of growing crops without disturbing the soil through tillage. This technique increases the amount of water that the soil can tolerate without causing erosion. Tillage is the primary cause of agricultural land degradation through erosion, and thusly we believe it should be eliminated from the farming process. This is an issue that we are working diligently to change. We plan to start by spreading awareness of no-till farming, which can be a much more profitable way of farming, while improving the surrounding ecosystem at the same time. We will educate people of the numerous benefits no-till has to offer in an effort to spread the practice.
Agricultural practices are at the heart of the human experience. In fact, anthropologists agree that all human civilizations began with the advent of agriculture. Before this technology, humanity survived as bands of roving hunter-gatherers. All this changed with the ability to plant crops. Primarily, agriculture forced humans to stay in one location to tend to the fields. As a result of this, we started to form small communities. These communities developed into cities and these cities, in turn, developed into the vast civilizations of modernity. All of this happened because of agriculture.
However, the story does not end here. Today agriculture continues to play a vital role in human survival. Currently, we humans receive 99.7% of our food from agriculture. This is not to say that agricultural practices have been perfected. Our current world population is around 7 billion people, and approximately 3.7 billion people are malnourished. With predictions for the human population in 2030 reaching as high as 8.5 billion, something will have to be done to feed all of the extra people.
One of the most important things being done currently to solve this problem is the conservation of Earth’s arable soil via no-till farming. Traditional farming methods involve tillage, which degrades soil. No-till takes care of this problem by eliminating the tillage process completely and has numerous other environmental benefits. Despite the tremendous benefits it offers, only 35.5% of American farms practice no-till farming. This number is simply not enough.
Soil erosion is a major issue today. Our current farming methods are based on tilling and plowing. While they have been the norm for hundreds of years, they degrade the soil and strip it of nutrients. Over time, the soil is no longer suitable for farming. In many developing countries, fertile soil is lost. For example, in China and Bangladesh, sixty percent of and ninety percent of plant residue is burned for fuel respectively, decreasing the levels of soil nutrients required for farming. Agriculture alone, is currently responsible for seventy-five percent of all soil erosion worldwide. in Fact, soil erosion in the the midwestern United States led to an ecological disaster called the Dust Bowl, where strong winds blew away the topsoil, creating massive dust storms. Since a vast majority of our food comes from agriculture, it is prudent that we engage in farming methods that do not degrade the soil and allow it to wash or blow away.
Our solution to the problems presented by soil erosion is to spread the practice of no-till farming across America. We will do this by spreading awareness to American farmers and by lobbying directly to federal legislators.
Our strategy for spreading awareness to farmers in America is centered around the self-declared “voice of agriculture”, the American Farm Bureau Federation. The AFBF is the largest general farm organization in America, and as such has direct access to farmers across the nation. The AFBF constantly releases news and information about farming to the farmers it represents. We intend on writing an appeal to the AFBF to spread awareness of no-till farming to its constituents.
At the same time, we will lobby federal legislators in an effort to get no-till farming subsidised across the country. Specifically, we will write an appeal to these representatives that will explain the benefits of no-till farming. In the appeal we will recommend that the subsidies be added on to the USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which “provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers in order to address natural resource concerns and deliver environmental benefits”.
With more farmer awareness, and government incentives for no-till farming achieved, we believe that it will be an inevitability that America will become 100% no-till. Beyond changing the norms of farming practice, no-till will ensure a prosperous, sustainable future for all future generations of Americans.
No-till farming has a vast number of benefits that make it an ideal alternative to traditional western methods, most of which are a direct result of not removing the residue of the previous crop. Firstly, leftover plant matter provides the growing crop with essential nutrients, including anhydrous ammonia, potassium, and phosphorus, reducing the need for additional fertilizers. This process is similar to that of any decaying plant in a forest. The nutrients from the plant matter leach into the soil, where they can be absorbed by the surrounding living foliage. Another advantage of growing crops through decaying plant matter is that the residue forms a mat atop the soil, stabilizing it and allowing it to retain moisture more efficiently. Not only does this reduce the rate of topsoil erosion from wind and water runoff, but it allows planters to grow their crops on steeper terrain. When planting a no-till field, care is taken in not churning up the residue left from the previous crop. Thus machines are used to cut small openings in the residue layer, where seeds are distributed. This method does not disturb the soil, and allows it to retain its moisture. As a direct result, no-till fields have approximately ten percent more moisture than conventional fields. This allows a no-till field to grow crops even while during a dry season. In addition to retaining moisture, the layer of crop residue provides insulation for the soil, which results in less drastic changes in temperature during day and night cycles. Finally, no-till farming is more profitable for planters. This is again a direct result of the layer of plant residue. Because the plant matter is used by the growing crop as a source of nutrients, no-till fields require less maintenance, reducing the amount of wear on heavy farm equipment. The machines used for no-till planting are much smaller than heavy plows, and can be pulled by smaller tractors, saving farmers money that would otherwise be spent on gasoline. Overall, these positive attributes make no-till farming a desirable and sustainable way of growing crops without degrading the soil.
Our plan is to immediately get the word out on the solution of no-till farming. This will allow us to see who reacts positively or negatively to this concept. After we feel we have done our part in spreading the awareness of no-till farming we will then evaluate our effort. Evaluating our organizations work will give us a chance to assess our level of success. This evaluation will compile all of the reactions that we have had, and all of the successful feedback given to us. Eco-Harvest’s evaluation will then be available to the people who we feel can make a difference for the cause. Giving other people a chance to look into how our organization works will only help promote our concept.
Before any farmer converts to no-till, each needs to do a self-analysis of their own farm and their current fixed and variable costs. Converting to no-till is not an easy process. However, the costs can be significantly lowered if one does a little research. For example, determining whether leasing, purchasing, renting, or custom hiring equipment is better suited to one’s farm can save money. Each farm and farmer is different, and for this reason self analysis of one’s situation one way to easily eliminate costs. Most farmers are intimidated by the transition because they simply think they are going to have to completely start over, but by considering all available options, the conversion to no-till may not be as difficult as many believe it is.
The big savings come from decreased labor and fuel requirements for the no-till system. The conventional tiller in this example must make three and a half additional trips (“passes”) across the field, “disking” and “cultivating” the ground in preparation for planting. A study conducted by the University of Nebraska (see picture) compared the costs of no-till farming with that of conventional farming and no-till is clearly more profitable. No till requires less disking and cultivating as a result the no-till farmer eliminated those trips and saved $33.69/acre in the process.
No-till has been criticized for increasing herbicide application since a major reason farmers till fields is to remove weeds. However, there are steadily increasing opportunities for farmers to transition to organic no-till systems and eliminate pesticides entirely.
Once interest, overhead, taxes, and other related ownership costs are added in, the no-till farmer invested $795.18/acre in his corn, while the conventional tilling farmer invested $859.22/acre in his corn. The final area where the no-till farmer outpaced his conventional tilling peer is yield. Using yield data from the University of Nebraska’s long-term tillage system comparison, we see that our no-till farmer again has the upper hand. In 2011, the no-till plot averaged 197.1 bushels of corn per acre, while the conventional tillage plot averaged 190.1 bushels per acre. Assuming a $5 corn price, we see that our no-till farmer had $985.50/acre in revenue, while the conventional tilling farmer had $950.50/acre in revenue.
Subtracting total costs, we see no-till had net revenues of $190.32 and conventional tillage had net revenues of $91.28/acre. In other words, our no-till farmer was 52% more profitable than his conventional tilling peer.
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