No-till agriculture offers vast sustainability benefits. So why do many organic farmers reject it?

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One of the main images most Americans have of farming is of a plow being pulled by a tractor (or in more antiquated images livestock) turning the land. Technically speaking this act is referred to as tillage: the preparation of soil for planting by mechanically turning it over.

Today, most global farmland is prepared in this way and has been for several millennia. But tillage has many side effects that injure both farmland and the environment.

In the push to make farming more sustainable, an increasing number of conservation-minded farmers have turned to what is called no-till agriculture. But the technique is not being universally embraced. Because of the entrenched views of many organic farmers, the group one would think would be most embracing of this tool are shunning it.

In contrast, farmers that are growing genetically modified crops are its biggest proponents, and it’s helped contribute to a sizable reduction in the release of greenhouse gases in farm fields. How did this odd situation come about?

Tillage is primarily a form of weed control. When a farmer plows, depending on the crop, as much as a foot deep of soil is overturned, leading to a loss of 90 percent of the crop residue (the decomposing plant from the previous year) from the top soil. The benefit of this high turnover is a disruption of the lifecycle of any pre-existing weeds and pests. Tillage is labor intensive, and often a plot of land needs to be tilled several times before planting commences.

The practice damages soil and leaves it exposed to erosion, particularly by wind and water. The detriments of tillage were on display during the Dust Bowl (from 1930 – 1939), a time in which severe windstorms and droughts combined with eroding topsoil to ruin crops and farms. This period of hardship for many midwestern farmers have led to some to rethink tillage based farming.

How no-till works

No-till farming, a type of soil conservation farming, prepares the land for farming without mechanically disturbing the soil. The previous year’s crops, referred to as the crop residue, are chopped off and left on the topsoil. A no-till planter then only slightly punctures the ground to inserts a seed. To overcome the lost advantages of herbicide and pesticide that tillage bring, safe and effective herbicides are applied to the land before and after planting.

There are countess benefits to the land, the farmer and the environment from adopting a no-till system. First and foremost, by leaving the soil mostly undisturbed and leaving high levels of crop residues behind, soil erosion is almost eliminated through no-till farming. The USDA’s National Resources Inventory credits the 43 percent reduction in soil erosion in the United States between 1982 and 2003 to the increase in conservation tillage.

The utilization of crop residues in no-till farming also drastically increases water infiltration and therefore retention (i.e. less evaporation) by the soil. This means there is less runoff of contaminated (by fertilizers, pesticides, etc.) water, as well as a reduction in the amount of watering necessary for a given crop.

Some estimates suggest crop residues provide as much as 2 inches of additional water to crops in late summer and the Natural Resources Conservation Service states that no-till farmed soils have a water penetration rate of 5.6 inches per hour, twice as much as for conventionally tilled land. This makes no-till farming an excellent opportunity for drought stricken areas like California.

Furthermore, because the soil is not being frequently agitated, no-till farming promotes biodiversity in and around the soil. Organisms like mycorrhizal fungi, which make commensal (i.e. benefit both the plant and fungus) associations with crop roots, and earthworms, which increase the water retention of the soil, are allowed to flourish through no-till farming.

The farmer also significantly benefits by the adoption of no-till farming, in particular through a reduction in labor. Conventional tillage practices require sometimes as many as five passes over the land with a plow, however, no-till requires just a single pass—to plant the seeds. An estimate by Purdue University calculates that a farmer will save 225 hours of labor per year for a 500 acre farm; the equivalent of four 60-hour work weeks saved a year. Another study estimated a reduction in labor by as much as 50 percent compared to tillage.

Climate change benefits

The benefits in reducing farming’s global warming footprint are immense. Fuel costs saved by running the tractor less, one estimate suggests, no-till can reduce fuel usage by as much as 80 percent. In addition to the reduced carbon emissions from mechanical equipment used in no-till farming, there are several other benefits to the environment. No-till farming, often when paired with crop covering (a technique in which a crop is planted for the express purpose of soil health), reduces carbon emissions through greater sequestration of carbon dioxide by the soil. Over half of the potential carbon sequestration from farmlands comes from conservation tillage.

Carbon dioxide isn’t the only greenhouse gas reduced by no-till, the release of nitrous oxide, a very dangerous greenhouse gas, is also reduced through no-till. As more nitrogen is immobilized in the soil there is a reduced need for the application of nitrogen rich manure.

Although, the benefits of no-till farming are robust, there has yet to be widespread use of the technique. As of 2009, only 35 percent of U.S. farmland had at least some dedicated land to no-till practices, almost all of it in farms growing GMOs. Furthermore, the USDA reports that no-till practices are increasing at just 1.5 percent and only 10 percent of farms are considered “continuously no-till”.

Why haven’t all farmers adopted it? No-till has some drawbacks.

For starters some crops need to be planted on tilled lands, such as root crops (e.g. potatoes). There are also obstacles to adopting the practice, in particular start up costs which include new no-till equipment (the planters) and chemical herbicides. A steep learning curve is also an obstacle as no-till practices can breed different pests, infections and weeds than those that are found in traditional till based farming.

However, the major argument (often advanced by the organic farm movement) against no-till farming is that it increases the use of chemical herbicides and pesticides. Tilling the land is mechanically biocidal and no till must compensate by using chemicals.

“[W]hile these practices can effectively meet farmers’ soil conservation and work reduction goals, they rely on herbicides for weed control, and as such, cannot be directly adopted for use in organic production systems,” writes the Rodale Institute, one of the leading organic research centers and an organization virulently opposed to genetically engineered crops.

But this is a simplistic characterization and evaluation of the technique. Scientific advances in agriculture have reduced the need for the dependence on the most toxic pesticides (e.g. organophosphate and carbamate) to humans and replaced them with much safer options. Moreover, the total amount of herbicides is trending down and the total environmental impact due to herbicides has decreased. And the use of insecticides has all but been eliminated, in some instances, with the introduction of genetically engineered Bt crops, which incorporates a natural insecticide that organic farmers have been spraying on their crops for decades.

Per acre toxicity of chemical usage on American farms (EIQ or Environmental Impact of Pesticides) has dropped since the introduction of genetically engineered crops almost 20 years ago. Based on research by PG Economics published in 2013 in the journal GM Crops Food, and confirmed by numerous other studies:

…covering the period 1996–2011, GM traits have contributed to a significant reduction in the environmental impact associated with insecticide and herbicide use on the areas devoted to GM crops. Since 1996, the use of pesticides on the GM crop area was reduced by 473.7 million kg of active ingredient (an 8.9 percent reduction), and the environmental impact associated with herbicide and insecticide use on these crops, as measured by the EIQ indicator, fell by 18.3 percent. The volume of herbicides used in GM corn crops also decreased by 193 million kg (1996–2011), a 10.1 percent reduction, while the overall environmental impact associated with herbicide use on these crops decreased by a significantly larger 12.5 percent. This highlights the switch in herbicides used with most GM herbicide-tolerant (HT) crops to active ingredients with a more environmentally benign profile than the ones generally used on conventional crops.

Even with the reduction of harmful chemicals that science has provided, genetically engineered crops represent a way to reduce chemical reliance in no-till farming. A study in the Journal of Agrobiotechnology Management & Economics found that herbicide tolerant (HT) soybeans have aided farmers’ adoption of no-till practices. Furthermore, farms that use both no till and HT soybeans have a significant reduction in chemical herbicide use. There is also evidence that practices like crop rotation and the crop residue themselves can reduce weed germination from year to year.

Despite these misconceptions about no-till farming, research into the technique continues and is expanding to many areas of the country. In Washington state, for example, where wheat is grown on fairly arid land, a study into farming of wheat there has shown that no-till matches (and possibly exceeds) yields compared to traditional tillage.

Although, we may not be able to convert all cropland to no-till farming, the more we do the better it is for the environment, the farmer, and the land.

Nicholas Staropoli is the associate director of GLP and director of the Epigenetics Literacy Project. He has an M.A. in biology from DePaul University and a B.S. in biomedical sciences from Marist College. Follow him on twitter @NickfrmBoston.

  • Durga Prasad Katuri

    Thanks for the useful article on sustainability of agriculture. Vegetable Farming

  • A very interesting analysis Nicholas. But you failed to mention the fact that organic stakeholders tried… and failed… to develop their own version of no-till farming back around the year 2000. What they found was that the “natural” substances they would have used to kill weeds were just as toxic, or more toxic, than conventional herbicides like Roundup. So the effort was abandoned, and the organic industry has been at an agronomic disadvantage ever since.

    • Bill Paradis

      This is patently false. The Rodale Institute has proven the efficacy of no-till for organic crops, and mechanical weed control is increasing in both use and effectiveness. Popoff is a well paid shill for Monsanto.

      • It so happens I don’t work for Monsanto Bill. Never have… never will. I’m a former organic grain farmer, as well as a former USDA-contract organic farm inspector.

        So, if the efficacy of no-till organic farming has been proven at Rodale as you claim, would you be so kind as to explain why organic farmers aren’t adopting it?

        • Farmer Sue

          Are organic growers committed to no-till or do they just not give a hoot?
          Unless an organic grower has a little garden of 10 acres or so instead of a farm (hundreds of acres or more), I cannot see how an organic farmer could possibly do no-till. A thousand workers getting crap wages hand-picking weeds? Would really love to hear some realistic no-till methodologies from some organic farmers here. And I mean farmers, not gardeners.
          And burning weeds does not count; that’s horrible for the environment.
          Other no-till methods, organic guys?

          • the organic industry tried finding a natural alternative to Roundup. They failed.

      • Bill, please provide evidence in which the Rodale institute has “proven” what you claim. Royale does not formal studies..it has published zero that I can find in peer reviewed journals; it makes claims all the time though. Are you aware of Rodale’s history of quackery? Please check back with the Genetic Literacy Project home page tomorrow, Tuesday, July 14, for we have a profile on the organization that I think raises some very serious concerns because of its pseudo-science history.

        • I hope your analysis will include discussion of how Jerome Irving Rodale died during a recording of The Dick Cavett Show in 1971 right after he declared how wonderful his organic diet made him feel.

          Also, be sure to include mention of the fact that Jerome’s granddaughter Maria Rodale is now the CEO of Rodale, and is an avowed pothead, and as such doesn’t always see things clearly.

          (I’m quite serious about all of this.)

          • First Officer

            I think his last words were, “I’m going to live to be 100!”, he was dead less than a minute later, at age 72.

          • Check out just posted profile on GLP!

          • First Officer

            Yeah, some things you just can’t make up !

          • Jon, why doesn’t the author of this article respond to my question? Why did he fail to mention the fact that organic stakeholders tried to develop their own version of no-till farming back around the year 2000?

          • JoeFarmer

            Wasn’t there a President around that time that said, “I’m not a crook!”?

            Just sayin’…

          • JoeFarmer

            True, but I don’t think his legacy should be his vapor-locking on a TV set.

            More correctly, people should be evaluating the science that Rodale generates, and that’s pretty much nonexistant.

        • Rob Wallbridge

          Lists of publications based on the Rodale Institute’s work can be found here: http://rodaleinstitute.org/our-work/farming-systems-trial/farming-systems-trial-publications/ and here: http://rodaleinstitute.org/our-work/organic-no-till/organic-no-till-reports-publications/
          Not all of them are peer-reviewed journals, but the number is definitely higher than zero.

          • Groups like The Rodale and Cornucopia Institutes which claim to support organic farming need to stop spinning yarn and come out in favor of mandatory, across-the-board, unannounced organic field testing. Without it, the organic will forever remain a scam.

      • JoeFarmer

        Rodale?

        Okay…Show me how organic no-till can compete. Real numbers, don’t exclude acres taken out of production.

        Ball’s in your court.

  • WeGotta

    So no-till farming seems not only to work better in certain places and for certain crops, but also it could have other benefits such as better soil and protection against changes in the climate that would negatively impact our ability to survive.
    Hooray for science!

    The soil is super important, isn’t it?
    Understanding our impact on our environment is super important too, isn’t it?

    Let’s keep it up team!

    • JoeFarmer

      Patronize much?

      Tell us about your farming experience, sport!

      • WeGotta

        Why do you assume I am patronizing? I meant every word. I am grateful for all the work people do. We can accomplish great things.

        What could I possibly tell you about my experience that would change your mind about me? You seem so angry and bitter…..

        • JoeFarmer

          You’re a condescending douche.

          You know nothing about farming or the Constitution. You’re a self-entitled useless bag of flesh, in my opinion.

          Most of the time I’m proud of the fact that each American farmer like me feeds 155 people. Except when a-holes like you post. Then I wish we had a Do Not Serve list. And you’d be at the top of that list, pal.

          • WeGotta

            Wow! I knew it.
            I doubt I eat any food you grow so relax.

            I know lot’s about farming and about the Constitution!

          • JoeFarmer

            No, you don’t know anything about farming.

            You’re an arrogant douche, end of story.

            Go jack off since I responded to you. That’s what you wanted; a response. Reprobates like you post in the hopes that someone will respond so you can beat your meat.

          • WeGotta

            Relax Joe!
            Why let someone else’s opinions have such control over your emotions?

            Don’t waste a second of this life feeling anger or hate, it’s a poison. Nothing good comes from it. I doubt I am the cause of any of your problems so stop directing the anger towards me please.

          • JoeFarmer

            Quit trying to take credit for something that isn’t happening, douchebag.

            Go beat your meat now.

          • WeGotta

            Credit?
            I would never “take credit” for causing you pain because that implies I would like you to feel pain. I do not wish you pain or any other kind of suffering.
            Sometimes we learn a lot by talking with people we don’t like. So relax and just try to see my point of view. I would try to see yours but all I see in your comments are mean words.

          • JoeFarmer

            Your point of view is based upon ignorance.

            Show me the “GMO-ness” in a corn kernel or soybean.

            Why aren’t you railing to see the entire genome of what you’re eating? You deserve to know all the “A’s”, “T’s”, “G’s” and “C’s” that you’re eating, right? It would take a really big sticker on your produce, but you deserve to know, right? Since you’re so goddam smart…

            How many genes do you think are in a corn plant? Are the number of genes in a corn plant more or less than what’s in your own bod? Where did those genes come from?

            If I buy a corn hybrid that has resistance to Gray Leafspot or Northern Corn Leaf Blight, you deserve to know that, right? How does that change the, “A’s”, “T’s”, “G’s” and “C’s”?

            What if my corn hybrid has less NCLB resistance in its genome and I use a strobylurin fungicide? Do you think you deserve to know that? How does that fungicide affect the, “A’s”, “T’s”, “G’s” and “C’s”? Or does it affect them at all?

            What about Goss’ Wilt? That’s a bacterial infection. What is your right to know in that case? Ewww…corn with a bacterial infection. Sounds gross. Don’t you have a right to know?

          • WeGotta

            We are back on labeling? Is that your main “problem” with me?
            All I’m saying is that if people want to know any of that information, they should have a right to know. That’s all.

            Why? Because I think it’s unwise to let power consolidate into smaller groups. I don’t want the same people who make money from it having any more say than the average American. However ignorant you think we are.

          • hyperzombie

            Joe, i know nothing about corn farming, what do they call the implement that harvests the corn cobs for sweet corn sales?

          • JoeFarmer

            Most of the sweet corn around here is harvested with a modern version of the old single-row corn-picker or by middle-school kids.

            The newer machines are more gentle, but it’s the same technology that preceded the combines of the 1950s. Single row gatherer, and so on.

          • hyperzombie

            The only reason that I ask, is one of my friends says that there is no machine that can pick corn cobs. and only the cob. He says it must be done by hand, I think not.
            Is the attachment called a gatherer?

          • Benjamin Edge

            What is the point of just picking the cob? If he means picking the ear intact, certainly there is a machine. It is called a corn picker. It picks the ears whole with cob, kernels, and husk intact. We had a 2-row corn picker on our farm. It had no grain storage; we had to pull a trailer behind it and the corn ears were shot from an elevator chute into the trailer. I often had to ride on the trailer and keep the ears spread out so they didn’t all pile up in the center of the trailer.

            If we wanted shelled corn we had to hand husk it and then shell it with a hand-cranked sheller mounted on the side of a wooden box. The sheller would take one ear at a time, grind the kernels off the ear, and spit the cob out the side.

            Then there is today’s more common combine that picks and shells the corn so that the kernels are harvested and the cobs and husks are discarded out the back of the combine.

          • Jason

            We called it a sweet corn harvester or a sweet corn picker. Nothing fancy in the naming! Even a standard combine picks the corn on the ear & then moves the ears to the back of the combine where machinery then shells the dry grain off the cob. Take out the machinery to shell the dry grain and you have an ear corn picker.

            And a lot of old timers and farmers out east (Pennsylvania) still harvest dry dent corn on the ear and store it on the cob for cattle feed. You certainly can harvest corn on the ear!

          • hyperzombie

            So what I am getting from these comments is that there is no machine that can remove the ear, and the husk and silk, leaving only a nice sweet cob of corn to eat….. WTF
            There is a space probe flying by Pluto and we landed a man on the moon 40 years ago, yet no ear picker, husker, silk removal machine….

          • Jason

            Do you also want a machine to butter it and feed it to you? ;-)

          • Michael McCarthy

            I’m sure that he does! Although I would envision it being something like this

          • hyperzombie

            The simple answer is “of course”, and a nice option would be variable auto cob rotation..

          • Michael McCarthy

            “there is no machine that can remove the ear, and the husk and silk, leaving only a nice sweet cob of corn to eat….. WTF”
            I’m sure that there is, but it likely isn’t used in the field. Unless Green Giant has an army of Oompa Loompas removing the husks and silks from all of the nibblers corn they sell. In which case, I don’t want to eat them if people (or whatever) are rubbing their grubby hands all over them.

        • Farmer Sue

          No, you are only grateful for the work organic farmers do. You’ve implied that again and again. You don’t respect or support conventional / biotech farmers, and that is obvious through your many posts.
          Eat up. I’m happy to keep feeding you.
          But if you want information about farming, talk to a farmer.

          • WeGotta

            Show me how I’ve implied any ingratitude to you or any farmer anywhere please. If you can’t, I expect an apology from you.

  • Rob Wallbridge

    From the article:
    “Although, the benefits of no-till farming are robust, there has yet to be widespread use of the technique. As of 2009, only 35 percent of U.S. farmland had at least some dedicated land to no-till practices, almost all of it in farms growing GMOs. Furthermore, the USDA reports that no-till practices are increasing at just 1.5 percent and only 10 percent of farms are considered “continuously no-till”.”

    So apparently the majority of all U.S. farmers “reject” no-till. But rather than delve into the practices and choices of the majority of all farmers, the article chooses to attack organic farmers (who comprise less than 1% of farm operators and farm acreage). And it does so with absolutely no evidence cited that organic farming practices are actually doing a worse job than non-organic farmers at soil conservation.

    The Rodale Institute did pioneer work in “organic” (i.e. herbicide-free) no-till systems – this work continues to be picked up, refined, and adapted by a number of farmers, universities, and research institutions across North America. And there are a whole range of soil-conserving technologies and techniques between clean, deep-tillage and pure no-till that continue to be adapted on farms of all types, organic and conventional.

    We could talk about all this, and possibly even advance our understanding and level of knowledge on these issues, but if you’d rather continue to throw rocks at organic farmers and organizations (and each other) with ad hom attacks and guilt-by-association smear campaigns, have at it.

    • Rob, I think the issue is the environmental and carbon benefits if no till agriculture. If there are organic practices that address these specific issues as regards tillage, then let’s discuss them. This article was one authors analysis. We’d welcome another perspective. Could you write it up or suggest someone else write it up to balance the scales. The editorial @pages” are wide open to all points of view. I think the other point here is that the opposition to synthetic pesticide use by the organic standards comes across as an ideological conviction rather than a sustainability commitment. Shouldn’t the goal be sustainability and not an arbitrary support fir or against a particular method based on rules agreed to–without necessarily considering what is ecologically best in each unique situation?

      • Rob Wallbridge

        Hi Jon, Thanks for the comments. To address your last points first, I think that Marc Brazeau and I covered much of this ground a few months ago in posts on GLP, although more exploration of the organic standards as ideology versus sustainability commitment is certainly needed.

        As you well know, I’m doing my best to offer my perspective on important topics while meeting the rest of my personal and professional commitments. I’ll add these ideas to the list. For now, here’s a link to some older reflections on tillage in a slightly different context: https://www.realagriculture.com/2014/03/gaining-ground-digging-deep-impacts-tillage/

      • There is no organic alternative to no-till farming. As I explained, the organic industry tried to develop a natural alternative to Roundup, but failed. And so it is that organic farmers are condemned to expend massive amounts of fuel dragging around cultivators, discers, tillers and harrows to try to control their weeds.

    • JoeFarmer

      Give me a break, Rob.

      No-till is just one reduced-tillage method.

      And quoting Rodale damages your credibility.

      How do you split-apply N to your organic fields? Raw manure sidedress?

      • Rob Wallbridge

        What kind of break would you like, Joe?

        You said “No-till is just one reduced-tillage method.”

        I said “And there are a whole range of soil-conserving technologies and techniques between clean, deep-tillage and pure no-till that continue to be adapted on farms of all types, organic and conventional.”

        So we appear to be in complete agreement.

        I didn’t quote Rodale – I made a factual statement about their activities. That would only appear to damage my credibility with those who put more stock in logical fallacies than facts and data. To which I would say “those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter.”

        Personally speaking, I split-apply N to my vegetables using a fish-based fertilizer applied via drip irrigation (resulting in water conservation and nutrient delivery direct to the crop plants). Field crop farmers have the option of injecting liquid manure as a side-dress, or using liquid or solid compost-based products: I recommended a couple of options to an organic corn farmer just the other day.

        • JoeFarmer

          “I said “And there are a whole range of soil-conserving technologies and
          techniques between clean, deep-tillage and pure no-till that continue to
          be adapted on farms of all types, organic and conventional.”

          And how many organic corn and soybean farmers are using strip-till, Rob?

          “I didn’t quote Rodale – I made a factual statement about their
          activities. That would only appear to damage my credibility with those
          who put more stock in logical fallacies than facts and data. To which I
          would say “those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter.”

          And if the Rodale Institute had anything useful to offer, they’d publish in peer-reviewed journals. But they don’t. Maybe you can tell me why.

          “… I split-apply N to my vegetables using a fish-based fertilizer applied via drip irrigation…”

          And I’m sure the fish that gave their lives were organic fish, caught by organic fishermen and processed by organic fertilizer processors, right?

          “Field crop farmers have the option of injecting liquid manure as a side-dress…”

          Not when there is any concern about federal law or for the customer, Rob. “Raw manure requires an interval of 120 days between application and crop harvest, where the edible portion of the crops destined for human consumption are in contact with soil, and 90 days for crops whose edible portion does not have direct contact with the soil surface or soil particles (24).”
          http://www.apsnet.org/publications/apsnetfeatures/Pages/Organics.aspx

          • Rob Wallbridge

            Here’s a list of publications based on the Rodale Institute’s Farming Systems Trial: http://rodaleinstitute.org/our-work/farming-systems-trial/farming-systems-trial-publications/

            I said “field crop farmers” to differentiate from farmers producing crops destined for human consumption. I am well-aware of the organic standards in this regard.

          • JoeFarmer

            You’re dancing and backpedaling more and more, Rob.

            Doesn’t matter. Organic Nitrogen production can never exceed organic manure production. Which is about 8% of animal waste. Too bad for you that 23% of U.S. pork is produced in Iowa. So, I’ll always be able to buy swine manure for less than you. In fact, I don’t usually pay for the pig poo, just the application. And those little piggys made their poo from GMO soybeans and corn that I grew.

            Fleece your customers as long as you can, Rob. You can’t fight the math.

          • Rob Wallbridge

            You need to do a bit more research Joe, but thanks for the comments.

          • JoeFarmer

            No, I don’t.

            You need to realize your organic operation that you use to fleece your customers is only possible due to the largess of conventional farmers that allow you to use our nitrogen.

            We cut you off, and it’s game over for you.

          • And don’t forget the fact that all the pest control being carried out by 99% of conventional farmers protects the 1% of organic farmers from those pests.

          • Garrett Osborn

            Somewhat true, however, healthy plants will not be bothered by pest insects even if the unhealthy crop next door is being destroyed. All depends on crop health.

          • Or so the theory goes.
            Can you provide any evidence Garrett? I heard this for years when I was a USDA-contract organic inspector, but never saw it in the real world.
            Never.

          • Garrett Osborn

            Probably won’t see much of this in the real world, due to poor plant health. There was a study out of California regarding high refractometer/Brix (as a measure of photosynthetic capacity) reading of plants (in orchards) and reduced insect pressure, it concluded there was no correlation between sugar reading and insect pressure, however the study failed to find plants that had a Brix reading over 10. Theory is after 14 brix there should be no/minimal insect damage.
            In the real world I’ve compared within a crop (lentils, peas, canola, durum, winter wheat and alfalfa), heavily damaged plants lightly damaged plants and non-damaged plants, and there definitely is a measureable difference in Brix. The highest reading I’ve come across is 10 in an alfalfa sample in crops surrounding our area.
            I firmly believe there is merit in the belief a high brix reading translates into a healthy and insect/disease proof plant.
            Haven’t done any sap pH comparisons yet.

          • hyperzombie

            LOL, that is just hilarious.

          • Garrett Osborn

            there is an increasing number of forage producers and rotational grazers using this method to test/proof forage quality. A Nuffield scholar in Manitoba is researching it for forage quality use.

          • hyperzombie

            Researching what method?

          • JoeFarmer

            Ya, those bugs will see that the producer has pure thoughts and not attack his or her crop!

            Magical thinking.

          • JoeFarmer

            Yep, herd immunity is a real thing in corn production.

          • Exactly.

          • The only research we need to do in the organic industry is to start field testing organic crops to ensure they’re genuine and safe.

            Please show us the test results from your farm Rob. You said in January that your organic farm was tested to ensure prohibited substances were not being used, but we’re still waiting to see the results.

            Could it be you don’t have any test results for your farm?

          • Rob Wallbridge

            Mischa:
            1) Stay on topic.
            2) Do not put words in my mouth.
            Good night.

          • You said your organic farm was tested. I’ve been waiting 6 months to see the results.

          • 4 days without an answer Rob. Are your organic fields tested for authenticity and safety or not?

          • Rob Wallbridge

            Here’s a list of publications related to Rodale’s work on “organic no-till”: http://rodaleinstitute.org/our-work/organic-no-till/organic-no-till-reports-publications/

          • JoeFarmer

            Where’s the Rodale peer-reviewed research, Rob?

            It doesn’t exist.

            Ya, you can get good soybean yields when you only grow them once every four years in a field. That’s not exactly rocket science.

          • Rob Wallbridge

            Did you click on the link? Did you notice that the first item on the list links to a peer-reviewed journal? Did you notice the number of articles on both lists I supplied that were published in “Weed Science” – that’s a highly-respected peer-reviewed journal.
            I’m not sure how much more obvious I can make it.

          • JoeFarmer

            So, two of the 8 authors of that paper are associated with Rodale. Big deal.

            The gist of that paper is if you throw enough cover crop seed out, you’ll eventually suppress weeds. And what are the agronomic consequences of slinging 187 lbs. of cereal rye seed per acre? Oh, that’s only about $104/acre just for the seed. Yeah, good idea.

        • First Officer

          Interesting. Fish based fertilizer does widen the naturally fixed nitrogen collection net beyond available farming land area. But how much farmland could be fertilized by the amount of fish available for that purpose?

          [Edit] Or to put it another way, how much percentage of total N could be produced via fish compared to what is needed for agriculture?

          • Rob Wallbridge

            Obviously, there’s not going to be any one solution.
            What really interests me is the question “how much total N (as an “external input”) is needed for agriculture?” I’m starting to hear conventional ag researchers suggest that maintaining high levels of organic matter and high-functioning soil biota can practically eliminate the need for N-fertilizer. Even in corn crops.
            We’re just starting to recognize the potential for soil biology to supply a lot more N than we’ve traditionally given it credit for (beyond ENR from OM and legume-fixation).

          • Jason

            “I’m starting to hear conventional ag researchers suggest that maintaining high levels of organic matter and high-functioning soil biota can practically eliminate the need for N-fertilizer. Even in corn crops.”

            Do you have any information on this? I’m curious about it. I live near Purdue University and rely on their Ag information quite a bit. I’ve heard a little about more research on N fixing bacteria in cereal crops, but nothing about it being close to practical yet.

          • First Officer

            Are we talking about actual fixing of atmospheric nitrogen or releasing already fixed nitrogen in the organic matter left over from the harvesting (which would reduce losses but would still need to be replaced)? I ask this because, from what I read, fixing nitrogen is an expensive proposition for any organism, requiring a large share of its energy budget. Why would free living bacteria with the capability fix any more than what they, themselves, need and where would they get the energy to do so?

          • Jackson

            My guess would be that the “organic matter” already has fixed nitrogen in it, but I would like to hear more about this, too. I wonder if there are ways to increase the population of nitrogen fixing cyanobacteria in the soil without harming the growing conditions for the plant?

          • Garrett Osborn

            As the diversity, population & mass of soil microbiology increases, so does the amount of amino acids & proteins. With the death of microbes the proteins and amino acids can be processed or used as a N source. There is research on this I have read, but can’t find a link for you. The majority of N doesn’t necessarily have to come from N fixing organisms.

          • First Officer

            I believe for this to work, without synthetic N inputs, the N fixing from in place organisms, regardless of diversity and mass of organisms themselves, must meet or exceed the amount harvested away + the amount lost due to whatever process. Mass balance always applies.

          • First Officer

            Addendum: Of course, things like fish fertilizer do reduce the amount that in place fixing needs to produce. But this implies a pressure on fish stocks (or ocean life as this need not be actual fish, just but any high protein organism).

          • Jackson

            If it’s not coming from N2 fixing organisms, then it is coming from the soil, so is no benefit to the plants. The only way to get nitrogen to the plants is by either micro organisms or humans fixing it from the atmosphere.

  • Matt Bomgardner

    I am considering converting my dairy farm to organic after farming no-till for at least 10 years now. I love the benefits of no-till and it has been my biggest obstacle to going organic. The soil is so important to me that at one point I thought if I went organic I’d put the whole farm into grass and buy in my grain needs. In fact, that’s still one of my options. The other option is minimum tillage using a rototiller just before planting seed. I would only go in 2 inches or so to kill the previous crop. Aside from pasture and alfalfa rotations in my fields. I would mostly need to terminate a crop when going from triticale to forage sorghum. I was wondering what others thought about this since this is a post on organic versus no-till.

    • JoeFarmer

      ” The other option is minimum tillage using a rototiller just before planting seed.”

      Huh? Please clarify how you use a “rototiller” on a farm and not a garden. Does it run off 540 or 1000 PTO?

      • Rob Wallbridge

        Rotary tillers are available in widths up to 20 feet (though it takes a 320HP or larger tractor to run them!) They run off 540PTO – the better ones are geared to provide a range of operating speeds.

        • hyperzombie

          Rob I think you are making the planet cry? Ripping into the bosom of Mother nature with a 320 HP rototiller, destroying all the soil structure, killing the microbes and the poor earthworms. Are you some kind of psycho? Go Organic where the soil is protected and maintained,,,,,,,, Oooops you are going Organic, LOL….

          • Rob Wallbridge

            Show me the data, guys. Prove to me that organic farming is ruining the soil. Prove that my soil test results are lying to me. Provide links to studies that refute ones like this that show “Enhanced top soil carbon stocks under organic farming” http://bit.ly/carbonseq

            Matt and I were exchanging ideas, and I offered an explanation to Joe’s question about using a rototiller on a farm and not a garden. That’s all.

            When you can provide the evidence to back your accusations (and maybe find the courage to post using your real names), we can talk some more.

          • hyperzombie

            How can we prove anything when you Organic farmers are not compelled to to share your data?? How much pesticide do you use per acre? what is your yield per acre? Why are you exempt from sharing this data?

          • Rob Wallbridge

            Nice try.
            Show me where organic farmers are exempt from sharing exactly the same data as every other farm operation: there are no exemptions.
            The study I cited above was based on datasets from 74 studies that did pairwise comparisons between organic and non-organic farming systems. Those researchers obviously didn’t have trouble accessing data.
            Sorry, you’ll need to find a better excuse.

          • hyperzombie

            Organic farmers are exempt from pesticide use reports. If I use spinosad i have to report it, Organic farmers do not.

          • Rob Wallbridge

            Show me the proof of that claim. And all the others you’ve made so far.

          • hyperzombie

            I never said that Organic farming is ruining the soil, I said that rototilling is ruining the soil. LIke come on, what do you think would happen if 170 million acres of farmland did the same thing…

          • Rob Wallbridge

            As I said before, I simply answered Joe’s question. I’ve never advocated rototilling as the one and only answer (in fact, I presented Matt with a number of alternate suggestions).
            Having said that, there’s a world of difference between terminating a solid-seeded crop with a 2″ deep tiller pass at the correct speed, and pulverizing mostly bare garden soil to a depth of 6 or 8 inches with a walk-behind tiller.
            Just about any tool can either enhance or damage soil health – it depends on the skill of the user, not the tool itself.

        • JoeFarmer

          Great, more ways to ruin the soil in the name of organics.

          • hyperzombie

            Yeah, lets all rototill !!! It is Organic approved, it has to be good right?

          • JoeFarmer

            Yee-haw!

            I used to think that Rob Wallbridge was a real organic farmer, now I think he must be a Poe.

            Fish emulsion fertilizer? Were those fishes organically raised? I don’t get it.

          • Rob Wallbridge

            You just finished quoting the organic standards to me – why don’t you look it up?

          • JoeFarmer

            Because there’s not enough “organic” manure for you doofs to ever become important. Do the math.

          • hyperzombie

            Rob, I use to think that you were a real farmer that wanted the best Ag practices. But now, “Rototilling” WTF, Rob?

          • Farmer Sue

            ARRRRRRGGGGHHHHHHH!

          • hyperzombie

            Is that the noise that you make trying to start the rototiller? Try premium gas.

          • Farmer Sue

            Yeah! If these organic guys think rototilling is good practice, it makes me rip my hair out. Thus the ARRRGGGGHHH! I’d like to know if they’re smoking happy weed. Organic, of course!

          • hyperzombie

            Wow a 320 HP rototiller will cost huge in fuel consumption. Wonder what it is per acre?

          • JoeFarmer

            Figure 0.52 lb/hp/hour for a modern diesel engine. So, 320 HP is about 23.5 gallons of diesel/hour. So, how many acres/hour can that mega-rototiller do? I dunno.

    • Rob Wallbridge

      Hi Matt, A farmer I know built a machine with overlapping, wide flat sweeps that ran about 2″ deep to terminate clover in the fall. Others have switched to vertical tillage machines. Timing would be critical on your shallow tillage to get a good kill, but if you’re going into sorghum you’re likely to do well – any volunteer triticale will be of minimal concern, especially once the sorghum gets established. The other option would be to graze the triticale really hard (or mow very close to the ground), then plant the sorghum with a no-till drill: assuming you’re doing this early summer, the sorghum is going to be much better suited to fast germination and growth at this point than the triticale.
      (A slightly off-topic aside – from a profitability standpoint, you’re much better off producing as much of your own grain needs as you can (assuming you have the land and equipment): unlike in the conventional sector, the market price for organic grain is going to exceed your costs of production the majority of the time.)

      • Matt Bomgardner

        Thanks for the reply Rob. To the others, comments like you guys are giving don’t help. They divide the organic versus conventional sector. I think both are important to the future of Ag. Organic has it’s problems like JoeF and hyperzombie stated. But organic thinks outside the box sometimes. Organic promotes crop rotation and crop diversity more than conventional. On the other hand conventional has it’s problems. It’s just corn and soybeans. Whenever the price of those two crops is down, the farmers complain to everyone that we need more ethanol, exports, etc. But conventional has it’s benefits, it isn’t bound by ideals or ‘moral’ boundaries. Conventional promotes no-till which organic can only match with continuous grassland. It also has less paperwork and isn’t guided totally by people who may have never set foot on a farm.

        Rob, you stated the reasons I am using sorghum. It canopies faster and therefore would control weeds. I won’t grow organic corn because I refuse to cultivate the soil multiple times with wide rows like corn. I agree with hyperzombie that the rototiller isn’t ideal, and if I can no-till into triticale stubble with sorghum I’d certainly do it without the rototiller.

        Rob, your comments on the grain. My 10 year average for corn is 110bu/acre. I don’t have the best land and rain is hit or miss. (therefore no-till is perfect for my farm) I would buy in grain because I can use that land to support more cows. At $1000+ profit per cow, I don’t think it would be profitable to grow corn that would sell for a profit of $1000 per acre. My yield would certainly decrease.

        • Rob Wallbridge

          Thanks Matt. I obviously can’t speak to your particular situation on the grain question – I’m relaying what I’ve learned from working in the organic dairy sector here in Canada. I urge people to run the numbers and not work off assumptions – you’re obviously already doing that! Best of luck.

          • Matt Bomgardner

            Thanks for your input Rob!

        • hyperzombie

          would buy in grain because I can use that land to support more cows. At $1000+ profit per cow,

          Wow, if you are getting a thousand per cow, hit me up with the info. I just bought 200 of them.

          • Matt Bomgardner

            I actually made a mistake, it’s $1,000 profit per acre which is $1,600 per cow in an average year like 2013. We’re talking dairy cows and I’m still shipping conventional milk. I graze a lot which makes my lower quality land shine. I get almost 100% of my crop work custom done. I’m very efficient w/ 1,000,000 lbs of milk per FTE and with the grazing I can lower my feed costs substantially while still making 20,000lbs of milk in an old worn out facility.

          • hyperzombie

            Oh, with dairy cattle. I dont have that kind of money, to get into that business.

          • JoeFarmer

            Ya, those numbers don’t add up.

            Milk is sold by cwt. A dairyman looks at what it costs to produce a cwt of milk.

            “Matt” thinks the money is made per cow. Which is bullshit.

            And I don’t even raise any livestock, but I know he’s full of shit.

          • hyperzombie

            I dont get it either, makes no sense.

          • Matt Bomgardner

            Cost per cwt is only a number used to calculate a break even price. Profit per cow or per acre is a number used to compare farm to farm and management style to management style. Every extension that deals with dairy uses ‘per cow’ like I just did.

          • Carolyn Parsons

            There are several financial benchmarks used in the dairy industry. Cost/CWT is on very common benchmark because it is where the rubber hits the road.

            Net income per cow is a common benchmark especially for financial accounting and statements for bank loans because it captures return on investment for the cattle, a major asset.
            If I were reviewing a dairy farm I would probably use some more granular data like a standardized 305 day production per cow, feed cost/cwt, labor cost/cwt etc.

            There are dozens of financial and production benchmarks used in the dairy industry and it depends on how deep you go and whether you are making financial decisions or management decisions. Long term or short term. etc.

          • JoeFarmer

            LOL, he’s like the junk mail you get from the prince of Namibia. Cash this 20 million dollar check, OK? We’ll let you keep 5 million.

        • Common Sense

          How about the damage to soil caused by the pesticides used in conventional farming, is that no concern of yours? Maybe because you are less aware of this it does not bother you.

          Synthetic pesticides do cause soil erosion, as you should be aware. They also cause low nutrients and this all means one thing; low yields, less money. And this is not to mention the wildlife and other environmental impacts. let alone the health of people that consume these in their final form. You’ll just continue to have weak soil and weaker crops, year in year out, eventually. Organic farming also results in 30% less energy use.

          http://www.organicvalley.coop/fileadmin/pdf/ENERGY_SSR.pdf

          Anyway, the choice is your but in the end it will eventually result in negative consequences, not just for others and the environment, but your pocket too.

          • Farmer Sue

            Every point you make is pure hype. You think we’re stupid, that we have less yields and less money?? Have you ever talked to a farmer? (I know the answer; your arrogance stands in the way of your desire to acquire knowledge)
            Your info (from an organic source; yawn — how totally original) about energy use is just bullcrap.
            You don’t have sense, but your stereeotyped shoot-from-the-hip responses are very “common” among those who don’t care to find out what biotech farming is about.
            I repeat: Talk to a farmer.

          • JoeFarmer

            “Synthetic pesticides do cause soil erosion, as you should be aware.”

            LMAO!

            You should stick to commenting about things you understand. Farming is obviously not one of them.

    • hyperzombie

      Using a rototiller is not min till, that is MAX till.

    • First Officer

      What are your reasons to going organic (I assume certified as such)?

      • hyperzombie

        More money

        • First Officer

          It seems that’s not always the case, even with the premiums. What with the extra time, labor costs and sometimes more expensive inputs and reduced and more variable yields.

          • Matt Bomgardner

            Actually, hyperzombie is right. More money. I’m still in the process of penciling things out but it’s looking very good. My style of dairy farming has gotten close to the organic way of dairy farming. I still use herbicide, fertilizers and antibiotics mostly for mastitis infections. I’ve been working on reducing my fertilizer costs by growing legume cover crops for forage harvest and timing my manure applications better. My organic matter has increased from less than 3% in 2007 to 6% last fall. Meanwhile I upped my 10 year corn average from 100bu to 110bu considering 10 years of corn on corn.

            Basically my main obstacles are the herbicide and antibiotics. If I reduce my milk output a little I should be able to reduce my mastitis cases. It then comes down to the herbicide which is why I’ve commented on this site. I could go all grass and buy in my energy (corn, barley, etc). All grass would be great environmentally, but I’d have lower yields than forage sorghum and small grain double crops.

            As you all might be able to tell, I try to look at the good and bad for both organic and conventional. For my farm and my management style, it looks like organic will pay without adding labor. For many dairy farms out there it likely won’t pay because their management style would have to change drastically.

          • First Officer

            I’m curious, your corn yield seems a bit low even for 110bu/acre. (US average 171bu/acre in 2014)
            http://www.nass.usda.gov/Charts_and_Maps/Field_Crops/cornyld.asp
            Do you know why?

          • Matt Bomgardner

            I have below average soil. I’m on shale which has shallow topsoil and dries out fast. My land is slightly hilly too. We also don’t irrigate which is normal in PA. That means we’re at the mercy of the rains and a couple missed storms means a low crop. My last 4 years were 9, 29, 180, 146 bu/acre. The first two years we had no rain after the corn tasseled.

          • First Officer

            So you’re the one pulling down our average ! :) Sorry to hear that. What county are you in? Up in the Endless Mountains?

          • Matt Bomgardner

            Lebanon county. My half of the county averages 100bu/acre while other parts of the county are disappointed when they don’t get 250 bu/acre. 2 miles to my south it changes from shale to limestone ground. Major difference. Sadly the price of land doesn’t change as much.

          • First Officer

            I’m in the Bux-Mont area of PA. I hardly garden, much less farm. But there are dozens of farms within my cycling distance so i get to have a very cursory look at how the corn is doing. (Amazing this year, so far!) I’m beginning to understand why you’re looking at organic and why it might work for you.

            If you can’t competitively grow your own feed (i.e. for less than what you could buy it for) for your cows, why bother? I guess the price differential for you, then, for buying organic feed as compared to conventionally growing your own is less than for the average dairy farmer, while you’ll still get the same premium. I guess, going totally to grass will cut down on your time too? Am i on the right track or am i just smoking weed?

          • Jason

            Yields like Matt’s aren’t uncommon in PA. There’s some really good farm land in PA, but due to the mountains, a lot of fields are small, sloped and often have rocky subsoils. But those guys seem to manage to get by!

      • Shadeburst

        For various reasons dairy farming is not very profitable. Organic is highly profitable owing to the high premium that buyers are prepared to pay. Likewise, making Nokias is not very profitable and making iPhones is. You’ve got to go where the money is. That’s how free markets work.

    • Rick Davis

      rototilling will create a hardpan. so you will need to pull a ripper through the field every few years.

      • JoeFarmer

        Yep. Any tillage tool will create a density layer just below where the tool worked the soil.

        In certain conditions, cover crops can help reduce that density layer. But cover crops create a whole ‘nother list of management issues.

    • Common Sense

      You use crop rotation and allow fields to rest. Plant other foods to restore the nutrients and quality of soil. Organic farming is more than tilling and no synthetic pesticides. Studies that have been extensive show organic food is in fact far more sustainable than thought, and can and will indeed feed the whole world. Studies that shows this take into account population growth for the next 25-75 years.

      Organic food is something we should be looking at more objectively, instead of applying the false science junk that biotech industry funds to discredit organic foods, farming techniques. Why would biotech companies still lag decades or centuries being nature? They do, because they have to select genes from wild strains of crops for drought and flood resistance, and other climate and environmental change, yet still fail to have the performance of natural and wild strains. They admit to this.

      The G7 countries say they are committed to phasing out fossil fuels by 2100. So now is the time to transition to organic farming. We have no need for synthetic petrochemical pesticides, they do more harm than good to our health, wildlife and the climate. Intensive and factory farming is the worlds number one polluter, globally. If we are to make this world sustainable and meet pollution levels then we will need to phase out all factory and intensive farming we have seen since the green revolution – that has been a great disaster for all concerned. And a return to organic farming, with more managed and better organised methods of implementing the techniques. Use nature as the technology and work with it, not against it. That way we can prevent pest resistance, soil erosion, disease, nutrient hold up in soil that prevent crops from getting nutrients which is caused by pesticides, prevent disease and more. Organic farming can and does exactly this, when done correctly.

      The science supports organic farming, otherwise there would be no need at all to spend hundreds upon hundreds of millions funding and sponsoring campaigns, special interest groups, bribing officials, manipulating their own data for studies and selecting the results they desire by design, this is not science, yet this is what they have been caught red handed doing for decades and exposed by courts of law. No wonder why they have a hate for organic and spend hundreds of millions in attempt to slow the popularity.

      • RJB

        Please cite your sources and describe your experience & credentials.

      • Matt Bomgardner

        ‘Common Sense’ your not a farmer I can tell because your just spouting what the organic agenda has been saying. Comments like yours are another thing holding me back from going organic. A non farmer trying to tell farmers that they aren’t making a profit and that their yields are decreasing. Meanwhile the farmers are seeing quite the opposite despite what the ‘non-biased’ research says.

        • Farmer Sue

          Yup. Increased yield, less pesticides, less fossil fuels from tractor passes over large fields, less tilling of the soil. “Common Sense” isn’t a farmer, doesn’t care to talk to a farmer, and makes up drivel because s/he heard it on Food Boob.

  • HSVcoalition 4Democracy

    This headline is an absolute lie: Organic farmers do not reject no-till. In fact organic explorers invented no-till techniques.

    • Common Sense

      Facts never stand in the way of biotech propaganda. They spend hundreds of millions a year in their war on organic food.

      http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/06/30/organic-under-attack-report-exposes-big-foods-tobacco-style-pr-blitz

      • Boulder7777

        Gimme a break. Hole Feuds has the same approximate industry value / revenue that Monsanto does.
        Organic is making war on conventional and biotech, not the other way around.
        Get yer facts straight.

      • JoeFarmer

        So, why do you have to try to change the subject?

        You’re not equipped to talk about tillage?

        Color me surprised. /sarcasm

    • Farmer Sue

      I repeat: What methods of no-till do organic farmers (not gardeners of a few acres; farmers, of 100+ acres) use?
      On an organic garden, they can pick by hand.
      On a farm of any significant size, that doesn’t, um, work.
      So what no-till methods DO these organic farmers use, if you are making that point?

      • Kevin Cuevas

        There are currently weed and pest control robots available and in development on the market to do the “by hand” labor. Big Farming needs Big Data otherwise it’s going to lag behind.

        • Farmer Sue

          To do 500 acres and up in a timely way? Without tilling the soil (which leads to erosion, runoff, and reduced soil and air quality)? Sounds like that would force farmers to lag behind and not be so sustainable or productive, to me.

      • HSVcoalition 4Democracy

        Organic farmers can use the mechanical pickers without any fear of violating the organic standard. Organic farmers use green manure methods like over planting into the dead cover crop. Many use flame killers on weeds if they become a problem, but usually they are not a problem. Read the websites of large operations if you want to know.

        • Farmer Sue

          I have seen the websites of “large operations.” A few hundred acres max. Pffffft.
          I am talking about real farming, not gardening. You got a website showing one of these methods? “Green manure” leads to even more e.coli and salmonella. “Mechanical pickers” — just how is that an alternative to tilling for weed control? Flame killers?? You really think that’s sustainable and good for the soils, runoff into water, and air? Scorching everything in the topsoil? You have a lot to learn about protecting the soil, water, and air, buddy. “Democracy” my butt. Go back and try again and post something that doesn’t make me wet my pants laffing.

  • rajutitus

    Tilling base farming is not organic and no till farming with ground cover crops and mulching of straws is good but use of chemicals and GMO is useless.

  • IanAndersonLOL

    I’m sure if there was some Paruvian armadillo piss which did the job of modern herbicides they would be all on board with no till.

  • Outside of grazing, the majoriity of US 350 million acres of farmland is wheat, soy, and corn. Farmers growing these crops, both GM and Organic who are successfully using no-till with cover crops are discovering the regenerative process improves crop production, improves soil, and controls erosion.
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=8imqZiEcyvc

  • Tom

    Check out Gabe Browwn, Ken Lang and jeff royer. Comical to suggest that organic farmers are a measurable cause of soil degradation. Heavy tillage conventional agriculture is undeniably common. I love the no till idea. No denying the many benefits but – the big but – in the conventional world, it typically only works when you apply pass after pass of toxic substances to the crop. I think to have a meaningful discussion, gmo crop production’s contribution to the human food chain needs to be added into the mix. Corn to ethanol would be 40+% of the U.S. Corn acreage that could grow something more meaningful. It seems the fetish with corn is what causes a disproportionate amount of the degradation, no til/conventional or organic. It’s a plant that requires early planting, late harvesting, unnatural levels of nutrients and makes cover cropping challenging relative to other crops. Humorous to hear people talk of corn on corn or soy on soy rotations. Somewhere in history the word rotation evolved out of the word round. A six crop rotation gives a bumpy hexagon wheel ride. A corn on corn “rotation” gives a flat line. Some thought that the world was flat. How could anyone have denied the obvious. The concept held true for so many years until knowledge and experience demonstrated otherwise. Crazy idea but could perhaps a rotation make pesticides and herbicides an unnecessary cost of production?
    A farmer that has built their business plan on a two or three crop “rotation” is not sustainable regardless of science’s work arounds to maintain unnatural situations. Long term realities are easily ignored due to our relatively short lifespan.
    To the guys who get special priority at the equipment dealerships because they wear out lots of equipment and drop a few million a year – why? Who really thinks that they maximize the return on capital growing GMO corn or soy on anything arable . If the goal is net – that’s great, grow non GMO or organic, if the goal is to max gross, well – continue to think others are messed up and you’re the critical link in feeding the world.
    There will always be Walmart customers but are they really the target market to make your business work?

  • SageThinker

    Organic farmers reject chemical weeding with glyphosate.

    • Good4U

      I’m sure they do. That’s why they aren’t eco-friendly, nor competitive in the marketplace without significant price premiums driven by fear-mongering marketeering by the “organic” dungheap.

      • SageThinker

        Nonsense. People buy them because they want them for good reason. Sorry you don’t like that. Deal with it.

        • Farmer with a Dell

          Nonsense. People buy them because they are no smarter than that. They let contrived phony baloney hucksters do their sage thinking for them, they let themselves be frightened and jerked around by the hair, they buy them for frivolous and self-important reasons, they buy them because they have more money than brains. They definitely do not buy them for “good reason” because they have no capacity for reason, apparently. All suckers!

          • SageThinker

            You can have your opinion and you sure do have one heck of a strong opinion here, but I still continue to disagree with you and that is based upon clear thinking and evidence. No matter how much you try to make fun of me and the millions of other people who know that clean food is good food, you still going to find that there’s a market for organic produce simply because people want good food. And they know that the industrial stuff is crap. And you just wait and see if there is a GMO wheat coming out, then the organic we share will increase greatly. People don’t want GMOs and people don’t want glyphosate especially. People do not trust the chemical industry is assurances that it’s just fine and safe and just move on move on. People actually are skeptical and realize that they’ve been lied to in the past and they’re probably being lied to right now.

          • JP

            Yep. The fact that people don’t understand that organic crops are no “cleaner” than conventional is truly proof of the opposite. Brilliant.

          • agscienceliterate

            This is the perfect description of his Alice in Wonderland reasoning, another great example of the “up is down” twisted logic from Sage that I can use in my critical thinking class.

          • Farmer with a Dell

            Of course there will always be a sliver of market share for organic and nonGMO, just as for quack remedies, nutritional supplements, rhinoceros horn, ponzi schemes, astrology, scientology, all that esoteric mumbo jumbo. And, as we all know, there will always be frauds, phonies and imposters ready at hand to delude and profit from the gullible. You know the type; conniving, sneaking, dishonest, preaching, beseeching, whining phony baloney evangelists stuffed full of themselves to the point of bursting…yeah, you of all people know the type, don’t you, I mean you do look in the mirror from time to time, eh? So what are you today Tinkler? Still pretending to be a nail bender or is it maybe a farmer again, or maybe a CIA operative, maybe an Olympic bobsledder? You will understand if we place no trust or value in anything you say, ’cause it’s all baloney and all subject to editing with a few keystrokes. Troll on Tinkler, troll on!

          • SageThinker

            It’s more than a sliver and it’s based upon very sound decision making. It’s not snake oil to want food without toxic chemicals in it. Of course the agrochemical industry would want you to think that it’s foolish, right? They have even invented the term chemophobia to make it sound as if it is silly to have concerns about specific toxic chemicals like atrazine. That where it is actually the fine work of one of the industry propagandists, Jon Entine. It’s quite interesting how a very well organized group of public relations and propaganda experts have come together to communicate to the public their version of reality in regard to agrochemicals.

          • Farmer with a Dell

            Wrong yet again, Tinkler! You say organic food is “food without toxic chemicals in it”, that’s your claim? Seriously? Oh, you know better than that. During the past 5 years when organic produce has been tested for pesticide residues invariably 40-50% of it has come back showing detectable pesticide residue, and of those about 4% are illegal residues. Wow, that’s nearly half of organic produce with pesticide on it! How’s your definition of the term chemophobia working for you right about now, dude?

            Now watch and learn, Tinkler. Here’s how you link a citation to backup a statement — just like this right here:

            https://www.ams.usda.gov/sites/default/files/media/Pesticide%20Residue%20Testing_Org%20Produce_2010-11PilotStudy.pdf

            See how easy that was! I don’t make up nonsense and then have to implore people to trust me. Nope, I direct them right to the source where they can read it for themselves. You really should try it some time, Tinkler. It’s relatively painless…if you’re not a fraud.

            Oh, one other thing you should have told people — you should also have informed them that some of the really nasty primitive organic pesticides that are commonly sprayed on their organic produce aren’t included in the USDA pesticide residue survey, really icky stuff like sulfur, copper compounds, mineral oil. So, when we recognize 40-50% of organic food has pesticide residues we’re really low-balling the extent of the issue, it’s way more than that really. But instead, Tinkler, you lied (sigh, as usual) and told people organic has no toxic chemicals in it. Shame on you, man.

          • agscienceliterate

            Face palm. Boggles the brain. Additionally, none of those over 100 chemicals used for organic listed in the report (starting page 19) are words that Food Babe, who Sage thinks is a “good egg” and “does good work,” can even pronounce, and hence, in accordance with FB’s little mantra to “…not eat stuff you can’t pronounce,” even FB would consider them all poisons.
            And Sage’s last line is hilarious! Reflects the organic industry brilliantly.

      • SageThinker

        They are indeed competitive in the marketplace because they make a product of higher quality and greater desirability, because people know that good food takes a bit more work and effort and does not magically appear on the ground. Chemical weed control is cheaper than holistic weed control, but the result is food with chemicals in it. And glyphosate is a systemic herbicide and is completely embedded within the food crap and is not washed off, unlike people sometimes claimed, people like Kevin Folta who would say anything to defend the industry even if it’s counterfactual.

  • Dewey

    Tilling also exposes the anaerobic bacteria in the soil to oxygen in the air, killing them and rendering the soil infertile. No-till preserves these bacteria and reduces the need for manure-based fertilizers. This in turn reduces the risk of contamination with pathogenic bacteria like E. coli.

    • Garrett Osborn

      I am of the understanding that anaerobic soils (>300 psi penetrometer measurement) are the ideal environment harbouring disease, toxin producing and denitrification related organisms.

      Anaerobic conditions favor fermentation (alcohol, methane, formaldehyde, cyanide, etc.) and sterilization of beneficial soil biology. Anaerobic soils are prone to erosion & drought due to the inability of water to infiltrate into non-existent pore space.

      Porous, high organic matter content, aerobic soils have lower chance of creating disease friendly conditions, have better water & nutrient holding capacity, have better nutrient exchange for optimal food plant health & yield (truly healthy plants aren’t susceptible to disease or insect attack), and increased resistance to drought & erosion.

      I agree, the anaerobic and aerobic soil zones should not be mixed together (unless using amendments to modify anaerobic soil zone structure). Tillage, if implemented, should be limited to the aerobic zone. While not a proponent of tillage, there are chemical & biological methods of creating aerobic soil conditions.

  • Shadeburst

    It’s ironic that when you speak about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, that real-life greenhouse operators increase carbon dioxide levels by three or four times for improved growth. Once again, ideology trumps science.

    • Good4U

      Right, well we humans don’t want to live in a greenhouse. That’s “science” for ya.

      • Farmer with a Dell

        In fairness, Shade makes a valid point. I guess CO2 has its uses but it’s had nothing but bad press for the past 5 or 6 years now, sort of like GMOs. The challenge seems to be managing CO2 levels to effect. Of course we’ll never get around to exploring anything meaningful around that because it has been vaulted into such a political hot button. To mention carbon dioxide is equivalent to mentioning racism, abortion, guns, wealth redistribution, social security…all those taboo third-rail panic-inducing issues and non-issues that cause all of us to leave off thinking and cling tenaciously to believing. That used the be the bailiwick of religion…ah, those were the good old days, eh?

  • Jim Boak

    You do realize that no till is the foster child of the chemical companies right?
    Tillage is not done for recreation but for many practical reasons. The environmental degradations now blamed on tillage should be credited to excessive tillage, incorrect tillage, un-timely tillage.
    Somehow the subject has lost objectivity and has become something like religious or political arguments.
    The combination of both systems is where we need to go to regenerate our soils while maintaining a profitable business at the producer level.
    I have over 50 years in this business of hands on in the soil practical experience and I can take you to farms all across north America that demonstrate regenerative soil management using tools as necessary to be both profitable and environmentally beneficial.
    When you do anything with soil you create disturbance to the microbial colonies. Many millions are killed only to become plant food and like us above the surface when we are faced with a disaster we rebuild stronger than ever. The trick is to make sure that you don’t have disasters back to back so you have time to replenish your resources and re-build your strength. As above so below.