GMO sustainability advantage? Glyphosate spurs no-till farming, preserving soil carbon

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The controversy over the safety of glyphosate — paired with herbicide tolerant GMO crops — has spurred debate over the value of no-till and low-till farming. The practices have been made easier with the introduction of Ht crops, but some critics say they may not provide the array of ecological benefits that many supporters contend.

Do herbicide tolerant GM crops encourage more ecologically sound agricultural practices? Are such claims no more than Big Ag industry PR, as GMO critics argue?

Ever since farmers settled the vast American countryside, neatly plowed lines through the soil have been a common sight in farm country. The lines were the result of fossil fuel eating farm machines clearing out choking weeds. Herbicide tolerant crops paired with glyphosate have altered some of those practices. One of the main benefits, say scientists and farming experts, is that the Ht crops have led to a sharp drop in the need to till fields to reduce weed growth—an age old practice. The practice called  low or no till farming preserves topsoil and prevents soil erosion and water runoff. It also releases less nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas contributing to global warming.

Understanding no-till

Why is tilling problematic?

Tilling is the practice of turning the soil over with a plow. Generally, plowing can be done in the spring before planting and helps to uproot any weeds in the field and push their seeds too deep into the soil for them to be able to germinate. Unfortunately, it causes soil erosion and water runoff while allowing greenhouse gases to escape. It also uses more fuel since tilling requires another pass through the field with a tractor. Degraded soil, in turn, needs more fertilizer, which runs off into river systems.

Conservation tillage is the practice of reducing tillage in combination with planting cover crops on at least 30 percent of land to help the soil recover lost nitrogen and replace the practice of using nitrogen fertilizer. No till is one popular type of conservation tillage in which soil is left mostly undisturbed from harvest to planting.

Tilling also requires the use of carbon belching combine harvesters. The use of herbicide tolerant GMO crops has cut down on all a range of ecological threats. A feature in the New York Times told the story of Texas farmer Gabe Brown who has become an evangelist for the no-till practices that the use of GMO crops has made possible. Brown told the Times that he no longer needs to use nitrogen fertilizer or fungicide, and he produces yields that are above the county average with less labor and lower costs.

“Nature can heal if we give her the chance,” Brown he said.

Quoting the Times:

“It’s a massive paradigm shift,” said Ray Archuleta, an agronomist at the Natural Resources Conservation Service, part of the federal Agriculture Department, which endorses the soil-conservation approach. According to government surveys,  the use of no-tillage farming has grown sharply over the last decade, accounting for about 35 percent of cropland in the United States. For corn and soybean—where the use of GMO seeds now tops 90%—no-tillage has nearly doubled.

Glyphosate, developed by Monsanto and in use since the 1970s, has been widely used in conventional farming and even in home gardens because of relatively benign toxicity profile. It is far safer than the products it displaced and safer than new ones developed since. Biotechnology advocates note that the growth of no and conservation tillage has correlated with the rise of the Roundup Ready crops, which paired the GMO seeds with glyphosate, first commercialized by Monsanto in 1996.

Monsanto and its competitors have advertised herbicide-tolerant transgenic plants as a solution to this problem. Plows can be replaced by chemicals to deal with the weeds. “The introduction of genetically modified (GM) crops in the last decade made no-till farming possible,” Monsanto says in its blog, a chest thumping statement that is, for the most part, accurate.

In 2013, 93 percent of soybeans, 82 percent of cotton and 85 percent of corn contained the Ht trait. Herbicide-tolerant crops can be sprayed with herbicide to deal with weeds rather than be tilled. Yields have grown steadily in the US since the introduction of Ht crops, and the the toxic levels of chemicals sprayed per acre and output has declined.

Farmer_and_tractor_tilling_soilPurdue University’s Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) drew the connection between no till and the introduction of herbicide-resistant crops, suggesting that those who were already practicing a form of reduced tillage were able to shift to no tilling altogether. There is some synergy there: Herbicides can help control weeds no longer tilled in a no-till system, giving farmers an alternative.

CTIC’s surveys suggested that conservation tillage, which is a broad category of reduced tillage, was at about 36 percent of cropland back in 2002, while no till specifically rose between 1996-2002 and represented about 19.6 percent of all cropland by 2002. A USDA survey estimated that by 2009, 35.5 percent of cropland in the U.S. was no-till.

In an article for Grist, food and farm writer Nathanael Johnson talked with farmers about what changed on his farm with the introduction of Ht crops. With herbicide-tolerant crops, Indiana farmer Brian Scott works the ground far less and sometimes not at all,” Johnson wrote. “That means there’s more plant residue on the ground, which means the ground is more productive, it holds the water better, and it’s less likely to wash or blow away.”

Farmers burn a lot less diesel when they aren’t plowing, and the residue provides habitat for wildlife. Finally, instead of dirt forming into big clots of compacted soil, farmers who minimize tillage find that their dirt is looser, aerated by billion of tiny passageways: When the tractors stop plowing, the earthworms and microbes start plowing. The tradeoff, of course, is that most of these farmers also use herbicide. But then, conventional farmers tend to use herbicide anyway.

How dramatic are the benefits? It’s hard to tell. Johnson was skeptical about the numbers. He felt there is a lack of good data being collected. Everything he could find since 2004 was based on estimates, projections or anecdotes, he wrote.

Not everyone sees such a clear link between the adoption of GM crops and the move towards more ecological farming practices. Doug Gurian-Sherman, formerly of the Union of Concerned Scientists, and now with the advocacy group Center for Food Safety, hasn’t been convinced that the move to no till occurred after the introduction of GMOs:

Not only can you have conservation tillage, especially no-till, without GE crops… the large majority of adoption of no-till occurred before GE crops came on the market (before 1996)… Roundup ready has made it easier, but so have no-till seed drills, and Farm Bill incentives that went into effect in 1986. If you actually look at the additional adoption of no-till after 1996, it is only a few percent in corn, almost nothing in cotton, and a little more in soy (maybe 5 to 10 percent of acres). So contrary to the widespread myth, the data do not support a major role of GE crops in the increase in no-till over the past few decades.

Other anti-GMO activists are adamant that there is no connection with herbicide-resistant crops and some say even that conservation tillage is declining.

“I’ve looked really closely at the whole no-till thing, and that’s just a fallacy,” said Bill Freese of the Center for Food Safety. Both Freese and Craig Cox of the Environmental Working Group said that from what they’ve heard anecdotally conservation tillage is actually declining. Some farmers have become concerned about one of the known consequences of relying on one specific weedkiller, such as glyphosate: weeds can become resistant over time, in part counterbalancing some of the ecological benefits of no tilling.

Jimmy Wayne Kinder, an early adopter of no till from Chattanooga, Oklahoma, told Ag Journal that the weed issue will force producers into hard choices over whether to till or not to till, with two distinctive paths in front of them. In his case, he says, he’s already past that fork in the road.

Many anti-GMO groups balk at the use of herbicide-tolerant crops, which they fear increases the use of chemicals, leading to weeds becoming resistant to herbicide.

A paper by Graham Brookes in the journal GMO Crops and Food showed that herbicide-tolerant crops have not been found to increase herbicide use any more than is used in conventional agriculture. However, the glyphosate-tolerant trait caused an overreliance on one chemical, said Charles Benbrook, a research professor at Washington State University and a well known organics promoter The danger in this isn’t glyphosate—“it’s one of the safest [herbicides] on the market,” he said. It’s that weeds have grown resistant to glyphosate.

This has led to growing awareness among farmers that they must take diversified approaches to weed management, which is consistent with the advice of scientists. As a result, farmers have increased the use of other herbicides on both GMO and conventional crops, noted the Brookes paper.

Roger Gribble, an agronomist the Oklahoma extension service, said farmers shouldn’t be dogmatic about whether to till or not to till.

“Don’t let anybody ever define no till for you. If there’s a Bible out there, maybe somebody would subscribe to that. But I don’t know of one. There are places in a no-till system where I would use some tillage.”

So, while herbicide-resistant crops can facilitate the use of no-till farming, its advocates are aware of the need to also train farmers on integrated weed management strategies.

South Dakota researcher Dwayne Beck, a no-till advocate and educator, said herbicides must be used properly to be useful. “It’s great technology,” Beck said. “But think of Roundup Ready as taking a pill rather than doing your exercise.”

If farmers want to use this technology they need to protect it. It’s not Monsanto’s problem to protect the technology, its the farmers’ job. Everyone wants to point at the biotech as the issue. It’s like the guns: it’s not the guns; it’s the idiots with the guns. It’s the way we use them that matters.

Beck advocates weed management that can include glyphosate or other chemicals but rejects thinking that views herbicide as a golden key. If its not applied correctly at the appropriate time it can create weed resistance.

Herbicides are certainly one tool, but in farming there are always trade-offs, said soil scientist Garrison Sposito, an emeritus professor in Ecosystems Science at the University of California-Berkeley. “You never solve problems by making changes. What you do by making changes is exchange one set of problems for another set of problems,” he said.

So while the compatibility of no-till or reduced tillage with planting herbicide-resistant GMOs gives farmers another option for care of their crops, ultimately, the promise of the no-till movement rests on good stewardship.

Rebecca Randall is a journalist focusing on international relations and global food issues. Follow her @beccawrites.

Jon Entine, executive director of the Genetic Literacy Project, is a Senior Fellow at the World Food Center’s Institute for Food and Agricultural Literacy, University of California-Davis. Follow @JonEntine on Twitter

For more background on the Genetic Literacy Project, read GLP on Wikipedia

  • Carl G Craver

    Great article Jon.
    You might want to correct the typo in the title. ;)

    • kurzweilfreak

      The title isn’t the only problem; the whole article is rife with typos throughout. Do you guys want to hire me to proofread for you?

      • Would you consider working for GLP?

        • kurzweilfreak

          Sure! In what capacity? Feel free to email me: [email protected]

        • Stuart M.

          I’ll help with typos too.

          The title still says “no fill farming.”

        • Shadeburst

          Jon Entine thanks for publishing this very informative balanced article. Too often the advocates of one side or the other publish only the good news and gloss over the not-so-good.

  • Tiny Hands

    This is good stuff! Thanks, I didn’t know about no till before.

  • Wackes Seppi

    Please, weed out the typos!

  • Stuart M.

    And it’s not “conversation” till but “conservation” till.

  • Stuart M.

    “Tilling also requires the use of carbon belching combine harvesters.”

    Doesn’t no-till or min-till still need combine harvesters to harvest the crop? “Super-weeds” are a misnomer. If weeds do gradually become Glyphosate resistant, the farmer will just have to till again.

    • Good4U

      Answer to your question: Yes.
      Response to your assertion about “super weeds” being a misnomer: True.
      Response to your assertion about farmers tilling again if glyphosate resistant weeds appear: Not true. Farmers with glyphosate resistant weeds will not necessarily revert to tilling. They will use other herbicides though…the same ones they used before Roundup Ready technology came on the scene. They are not any better for the environment, or for human safety, than glyphosate.

      • Stuart M.

        Thanks for responding!

    • forgenerationstocome

      It would be interesting to know what the carbon footprint of herbicide is. If we are talking about tilling as using more carbon then we need to consider all the carbon used to manufacture, package and transport herbicides and the number of passes needed to apply it.

      • Rickinreallife

        carbon footprint is no till is less. Good question though.

        • forgenerationstocome

          The carbon footprint of not tilling and using herbicide to control weeds is most certainly higher than tilling and not using herbicide. Don’t know what you mean by conceding moral ground. Rototilling before planting is what organic farmers do to get a head start on the weeds so it sense from both a practical and ecological point of view.

          • Farmer with a Dell

            I guess you’ve never had occasion to ride the weather deck of a tractor out here in America, eh forgen?

            How much carbon is released by the synthesis, packaging and delivery of 12 ounces of glyphosate to treat one acre of no-till ground? It pales in comparison to the additional resources to work that acre of ground conventionally, to wit:

            2 to 4 additional gallons of diesel fuel burned per acre conventional tillage

            about twice as much wear and tear on expensive tractors and field equipment – that’s twice the maintenance, repairs, replacement of machines fabricated from mostly iron and steel that has to be mined, smelted, cast or forged, machined, primed and painted…

            about twice the amount of wear on rubber tractor and implement tires, massive tires that have to be manufactured and eventually thrown out and replaced with new

            about twice the labor resources, so twice the number of employees, each outfitted with personal transportation (usually a pickup truck) burning fuel to commute to the farm and to and from the field.

            So, do the math or not, it’s no contest.

            And your suggestion of rototilling? You couldn’t possibly be more incorrect in your assumptions!

            Rototilling is the most fuel inefficient soil tillage method available. Relative power inputs are many times greater than conventional tillage and no-till

            Rototilling wreaks massive destruction on soil structure and releases the maximum possible amounts of trapped carbon into the atmosphere.

            I’m not surprised organic farmers favor rototilling. They seem to favor every practice that blows GHG into the atmosphere to hasten climate change. Why, their composting activities, alone, release massive quantities of GHG into our atmosphere. It’s a ridiculously unsustainable way to farm. All the hype to the contrary is just that – hype to separate you from your grocery money, selling you organic food at 2X the price of good ordinary food.

          • forgenerationstocome

            The footprint of Glyphosate does not end after application as has been debated in the Half life debates. Also how do you figure on the extra wear and tear on tractors? Sounds like the hydrolics to lift the boom sprayers would need just as much if not more maintenance than the P.O. shaft of a diesel tractor. ANyways sounds like you’ve got you’re mind made up. Cheers

          • Farmer with a Dell

            Hydraulics to lift the sprayer boom? How the hell do you think all those organic farmers lower and lift their plows out of the ground? How do they raise and lower their tillage equipment? Why, hydraulics, you ninny.

            Guess you’ll have to enlighten us all regarding the carbon footprint of glyphosate. You aren’t much of a biochemist, are you?

            Tell me where you live and I’ll arrange to have a few worn out tractor tires and a busted up old 18 foot field cultivator dropped off in your driveway, Einstein. Maybe you’d also like the remains of a tired old 6 bottom moldboard plow and a few pallets of; replacement iron plow points & shins? We stopped tugging that clunky stuff through the soil years ago around here, but your organic buddies still use ’em to erode soil and nutrients into the Gulf of Mexico. Guess they always will.

          • forgenerationstocome

            The fact that one would need to be a biochemist to understand how to farm is disturbing. Can we not learn from our mistakes. I understand that Atrazine is still being used in spite of what is now known about its damaging effects on ecosystems and humans. Now Glyphosate has been re-classified from possible carcinogen to probable by the WHO and they are not even an independent body. Do we have to keep doing this merry-go-round decade after decade. Anyways Farmer you seem like an angry type of person who likes to insult peoples intelligence. I like a good debate but rarely find it on this site.

          • Farmer with a Dell

            Well, if you jackasses ever succeed in banning glyphosate, then atrazine will become our herbicide of choice once again. Want to get off the “merry-go-round”? Well then, quit your job and get all your dumbassed friends and acquaintances to quit theirs and all get out into the fields to get the weeding done. It’s gonna take a lot of you grunts to get over those tens of thousands of acres. But stoop labor is all that’s required to git-r-done. You and your fellow cranks are the solution, after all — but merely bitching, lying and lecturing doesn’t get the weeds pulled. So down on your hands and knees, forgen, and look lively.

          • forgenerationstocome

            So you would willingly spray a known carcinogen on food crops if Glyphosate were banned. Don’t you ever think that maybe there is no magic to herbicide. Herbicide dependant farming just defers the problem to the next generation. What is the point if you’re legacy is a burden to your children?

          • agscienceliterate

            Why would someone spray a substance if it were banned? Where would they get it to spray it in the first place, if it was banned?

          • forgenerationstocome

            Was talking about Dells comments regarding switching back to Atrazine if Glyphosate was banned.

          • You have never gone a day in your life without exposure to dozens if not hundreds of carcinogens, mutagens and teratogens. These things are in your food and the air you breathe. In small amounts, they are harmless. How about teaching yourself some toxicology? You seem to lack any sense of perspective.

          • forgenerationstocome

            Obviously we are creating an environment full of carcinogenic chemicals. Does that mean we should make more and dump them into the soil. Not sure what you’re point is. That because we already have so many toxins in the environment then we shouldn’t care if we release more. There is something called saturation point at which point the body’s defences become overloaded.

          • Obviously we are creating an environment full of carcinogenic chemicals. Does that mean we should make more and dump them into the soil.

            Walk into a forest and you will be surrounded by thousands of chemical compounds that are toxic to humans. Most of those compounds break down readily in the soil.

            The environment was a much more deadly place prior to the widespread adoption of synthetic materials, that is why life expectancy a few hundred years back was ~ 40 and why it is ~80 nowadays.

            You seem very concerned about glyphosate. I use it frequently on my farm which has been completely destocked and which I am revegetating with native plants. I even use it to within a metre of my wetland area. My soil is healthy, my native plants are growing well, thousands of birds, frogs and reptiles now call my place home. Glyphosate used according to the label instructions is very safe. It is much better for the environment than the organic alternatives like tilling.

          • Farmer with a Dell

            The point? Ever since your ancestors and you defected from farm living we’ve not had sufficient stoop laborers to accomplish hand weeding of our crops. So if you ban one herbicide we will have to use another we happily set aside years ago. It’s not our preference to be forced backward in time and technology, it is at your insistence — but you won’t pull weeds, you only want to sit around and eat. And someone has to grow all that food you demand and we need to control weeds to do it. So the point, forgen, is moot…unless you all come back on to the farm and get them damned weeds pulled.

          • Twan

            Why should “herbicide depending farming” be something unnatural. In
            nature plants make their own toxins to prevent predation and most are therefore
            unedible to us. Our ancestors domesticated the less poisonous plants and so present
            day crops are the result of selecting on yield, taste and as few
            toxins as possible. This again makes crops vulnerable to predation and farmers always have had
            to protect them. So they took away the endotoxins making
            the plants edible but defenceless and then applied exotoxins as a controllable
            defense mechanism. Of course those
            exotoxins must be harmless to us humans but in a way applying them is mimmicking nature .

          • forgenerationstocome

            I see you’re point but you are saying that “those exotoxins must be harmless to us humans”. Nobody is saying that they are harmless. If they were then why does it say poison MSDS. Furthermore we are talking about herbicide and roundup ready crops which nature doesn’t create. The only herbicide nature has is to choke them out by growing faster thus exhausting the weeds ability to steal water and nutrients.

          • Twan

            Some
            plants like walnuts do produce herbicides but that is not a very common
            strategy and you’re right, in the wild most plants can only survive in special
            ecological niches. Crop plants are grown in many environments, and competitive
            advantage have been bred out in favour of yield. Take cereals, originally
            adapted to semi-arid environments without forest growth, where they grow tall
            to undo competitors. To grow cereals in Europe farmers had to remove the natural
            forests and then it still was a fight against weeds. Present-day semi-dwarf
            cereals, are even more susceptible to overgrowth. We want to have as much yield
            as possible using as little land as necessary (more for nature). So you improve
            crops, improve soli quality (no till, less soil compression, cover crops, well
            dosed fertilization, introduction of growth enhancing bionome) but you still
            need to deal with weeds and every method will have its trade-offs. I’m not
            saying use herbicides, but don’t dismiss this option out of hand. If you feel
            uneasy about herbicides as man-made, then remember that also some plants are
            using them.

          • The only herbicide nature has is to choke them out by growing faster thus exhausting the weeds ability to steal water and nutrients.

            That is a remarkably ignorant comment. Most plants engage in chemical warfare against herbivory and other plants and some of them do produce herbicides. Surely you have heard of allelopathy.

            Every fruit and vegetable also contains a cocktail of naturally occurring toxins in trace amounts, for instance pears are 40 ppm carcinogenic formaldehyde (embalming fluid). Every so often growing conditions or a new cultivar of edible plant produces more than the usual amount of toxins and folk get sick. A case in point is mostly organic zucchinis causing cucurbitacin poisoning in New Zealand a few years ago. http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO0205/S00140.htm

            Your knowledge base is remarkably thin. May I suggest you inform yourself better before you tell farmers how to farm.

          • forgenerationstocome

            Not telling people how to farm. Just engaged in a debate as are you. You are right that I don’t know a great deal about herbivory and allelopathy. I haven’t ever encountered a weed in my garden that attacks its adversaries with chemicals. I do agree that most plants have some kind of pesticide but that is not what I was talking about.

          • forgenerationstocome

            By adversaries I meant fellow weeds and not insects

          • hyperzombie

            Furthermore we are talking about herbicide and roundup ready crops which nature doesn’t create.”
            What? this makes no sense. All crops are resistant to at least one herbicide. Not to mention the whole line of NON GMO Clearfield crops that are resistant to the clearfield line of herbicides, that Bayer happens to own the patents on.

          • forgenerationstocome

            “all crops are resistant to at least one herbicide” What do you mean by this? Logically it doesn’t make sense. How can all crops be resistant to one herbicide if not all crops are GE.

          • hyperzombie

            There is a herbicide for every crop, and it would make sense to you if you knew anything about farming. All wheat, barley and rye are resistant to all the broadleaf herbicides. Corn is resistant to Atrazine, and dozens of other herbicides. You can use Treflan on strawberries. Every crop has a herbicide that can be used on/with the crop. There are over 100 different herbicides.

          • forgenerationstocome

            Sure you could use Treflan on strawberries or you could grow them without. I have also helped grow perfectly good corn without pesticides and herbicides. You are talking as if it is not possible to do this without. If I didn’t try it myself I wouldn’t make the claim, but how would you know, you don’t know anything about what I’ve seen and done.

          • hyperzombie

            Yep you can grow any crop without herbicides, but why would you want to? Do you enjoy wasting land, increasing carbon emissions, and destroying natural areas? Seems kind of silly to me. But it is your choice, we live in a free county, waste all the land that you want.

          • hyperzombie

            The only crop that I can think of that does not have an approved herbicide is Hemp. But they do recommend Roundup or Diquat for preplant weed control. Also you would need Roundup if you wanted to rotate to a different crop, Hemp is very hard to control.

          • Farmer with a Dell

            Around here I understand the locals are fond of disposing of hemp by burning it. They do that a lot. Smoke, tars and ash that remain seem innocuous except they do tend to stain the fingers and stink up clothing, bedclothes and draperies. Quite a bit of the seed escapes, though. Commonly find seeds lurking in sofa cushions, lodged in the corners of dresser drawers, that sort of thing. It’s almost impossible to eradicate, as you say.. So much so that I understand Colorado stopped trying, they may declare it the state plant.

          • Rickinreallife

            Actually plants are capable of producing substances with allopathic properties (from the Greek “allelo-,” meaning “other,” and “-pathy,” meaning “suffering,) i.e. substances that are toxic or in some manner inhibit the growth of nearby plants.

            Providing links to two articles that talk about this. The first identifies a number of substances that plants produce that function as herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, etc. In fact, a range of synthetic pesticides, as discussed in the article, were formulated to mimic their chemical structure and properties. The second more reader friendly article talks about a natural herbicide discovered in crabgrass.

            https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/pressroom/presspacs/2013/acs-presspac-june-26-2013/crabgrass-secret-the-despised-weed-makes-herbicide-to-kill-neighboring-plants.html

            https://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/proceedings1990/V1-511.html

          • agscienceliterate

            Not by the WHO. By the IARC, only one branch of the WHO. And the “probable” is in the same category of carcinogenicity as sunlight and caffeine. Look up the IARC chart.

          • hyperzombie

            Rototilling”

            As soon as they mention rototilling. You know that they have no idea what they are talking about. It is so funny.

            Wow how much horsepower would you need to power a 44 ft rototiller? Do they even make a tractor that big?

          • Farmer with a Dell

            I don’t really know but I can say with confidence when you sink a 12′ discbine into the mud and rototill just a yard or less it will make black smoke come out of a JD 4250 and will stall it. The radio keeps playing, though.

          • hyperzombie

            less it will make black smoke come out of a JD 4250 and will stall it. The radio keeps playing, though.”

            LOL, mine when it stalls starts spitting out error codes on the dash… Lots of blinking lights.

            I guess you know when you are farming “Organically Real good” Lots of error codes, yet the radio still works.

            Yeah Organic, Breaking tractors since 1972.

          • agscienceliterate

            Maybe they are using a team of a dozen or two dozen environmentally-friendly Clydesdales pulling that thing.

          • hyperzombie

            two dozen environmentally-friendly Clydesdales”

            well that is what they might think. But it takes about 100 Horsepower per 8 feet of rototiller.

          • agscienceliterate

            Ah, right. Maybe a whole village full of not-so environmentally friendly Clydesdales.

          • Rickinreallife

            My moral high ground comment was not necessary, i’ll retract it. I also see i replied to a comment a year old which i don’t like to do.

            Farmer with a dell hits on points I would make about relative carbon release. You need to go back 20-30 years ago to compare the amount of tillage to prepare soil for planting, to plant and then cultivate after a crop emerges but before its too tall to get cultivator equipment through. Thats turning the soil 3-5 times each season, and thats a lot of fuel consumption for a tractor pulling various field implements behind it, and like Dell points out, wear and tear on equipmeent. All that tillage does indeed have the advantage of also disrupting weed growth of weeds that had sprouted, although unsprouted seeds and later season weed seed remains in the soil and will eventually sprout and grow, as well as seed blown in or carried in by wildlife during the growing season. For that reason, farmers before no-till might also apply herbicides during tillage operations that incorporated into the soil that activated with rain to kill weeds that sprouted after tillage. Dell might have more info of products used even with tillage. Some of these had long soil residual presence and thus sometimes limited crop rotation options the next year. One of the advantages of glyphosate tolerant varieties is that it allowed spraying over thwith less soil incorporation and it dissipates faster than other products, i.e. much less residual so it doesn’t limit what you can plant next season.

            In no till, you use a tractor once to pull a specially designed drill to plant seed directly into the stubble of the previous crop, you don’t have to disc the field a couple times first. This avoids the disadvantages of tilling to prepare a seed bed or specifically to kill weeds, i.e. disruption of soil ecosystem and leaving soil vulnerable to erosion. Intensively tilled soil is also vulnerable to compaction and hardpanning. The disadvantage of no till, of course, is that it doesn’t kill weeds. Thus farmers spray to control weeds, maybe once before planting and once or twice after until the crop forms a mature canopy shading the soil, after which the crop itself will suppress weed growth. The sprayer vehicles used consume only a small fraction of what a tractor pulling a tillage implement would. I thus agree with Dell, controlling weeds via herbicide application with a sprayer is far more fuel efficient.

            You make a good point, the manufacture and transport of herbicides, in addition to the fuel used during application, does take energy and is part of the net carbon emissions of a no-till system. But youre comparing the carbon footprint of the energy consumption to make and transport 12-16 oz per acre of herbicide with 2-4 gallons of diesel fuel consumed per acre to till the field. The full carbon footprint of tillage includes the energy consumed to get the crude oil out of the ground, transport the crude to refineries, refine the crude into fuel, and transport finished fuel products to retailers and then to the farm that are burned in the tractors to pull tillage equipment.

            Tillage has other carbon emissions. Turning the soil, by rotatiller, disk, chisel, sweep, whatever, exposes soil carbon molecules to air, oxidizing it and releasing it to the atmosphere. Erosion also unlocks carbon in the soil. Tilling can incorporate crop residues and other organic matter into the soil. So there can be tradeoffs. But generally, no till is thought to be better for carbon sequestration.

            I would point out that no till or minimum till concepts are not incompompatible with organic principles, and rotatiller use is also sometimes used in non organic. Some types of crops like grapes or orchard crops, forage crops are grown with little tillage whether organic or not. The no till I believe we are discussing is for broad acre annual field crops.

            Others might be better since I’m not overly familiar with use of rotatilling in commercial scale farming. But rotatiller is normally used by organic farmers to break up and incorporate cover vegetation, both to eliminate it as competition for the crop that will be planted and to incorporate the cover vegetation into the soil, and decaying plant materials can eventually provide nitrogen and other nutrient to to future crops. Home gardeners use rotatillers mainly as an alternative to manually spading the soil in order to loosen the soil so its easier to work with but also sometimes to incorporate composts or other soil amendments. Cover cropping is also slowly becoming more common in conventional ag for several reasons, to extract nitrogen not used by the crop, to improve soil, to control weeds, sometimes as forage for livestock. Conventional producers might also rotatill a cover crop under but no till adherents typically eliminate it with a herbicide.

            I think it is too simplistic to try to say one method is good and one bad. Rather, I think the better way is to understand that any method or strategy has tradeoffs, perhaps advantageous in some ways, but disadvantages in other ways. One of the advantages of no till is a marked reduction of fuel use and improvements in soil quality and less erosion than intensive tillage conventional or organic, which is why i argue it has a smaller carbon footprint. Your criticisms of use of herbicides to control weeds in no till for the most part are not really about caarbon footprint. The disadvantage to no till for organic producers is not hostility to the concept of no till, per se, but rather that tillage is often necessary to incorporate nutrients like mulches and manures, and cover crops, to replenish nutrients taken up by the crop. The disadvantage for organic or conventional farmers that don’t use no-till is that you have to control erosion in other ways.

            Sorry this is so long, but i was trying to respect your intelligence,

          • forgenerationstocome

            I agree with you that carbon footprint is not a great measure of impact on the environment. Carbon itself is not bad so to measure in terms of carbon emmissions is misleading. It would be difficult to measure the true impacts in this way however this is not even the most important factor. What concerns me is that farming is becoming dependant on synthetic chemicals, a chemical treadmill so to speak. We cannot make these products ourselves so we are dependant on a high tech industry. This is not just a product of needing to produce more food but a result of centralization of food production into massive monocultures driven by a competitive market seeking to win market share, add rapid adoption of GE and Roundup Ready tech to that and you’ve got a recipe for the possible extinction of polinating insects which do so much work on our behalf. Imagine us all having to polinate every fruit flower by hand. They are having to do it in parts of China. This is a wakeup call to us if we pay attention. Much more sustainable for the long term survival of humanity would be many small scale organic farms. This is the way humans evolved for centuries and the way that much of the developing world still feeds itself. I don’t feel it is up to me to feed the world. I believe that if we are not driving the prices down then farmers can make a living and support themselves. The entire world is plagued by inequality of wealth which is the cause of poverty and starvation. It has nothing to do with the ammount of food being produced.

          • agscienceliterate

            Forgen, perhaps small scale organic farms worked when there were only one billion people on the planet. I do not think going backwards to return to old farming methods is an advantage to the environment, the economy, farmers, consumers, or the world.
            See this attached chart. In 1800, the world population was around 1 billion. In 1900, about 1.75 billion or so. In 2000, around 6 billion, an exponential explosion in just one century. In 2016, the population is around 7.4 billion.
            https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:World-Population-1800-2100.png
            It has everything to do with the amount of people and about the amount of food bein produced and distributed. Simplifying the issue to “inequality of wealth” does not suffice.

          • forgenerationstocome

            Your point makes no sense. The key to the numbers is proportion of farmers to consumers. That proportion is going down due to centralization of power in the AG sector. If we reverse this trend then there will be more farmers per consumers. Its the ratio that matters not the world population. ANd when has it every been another cultures responsibility to feed them unless they feel guilty for occupying and destroying their economy. Where is the incentive to become a farmer if there is no profit? Are we not being conned by the Biotechs who are pulling at our heartstrings saying we need this technology to feed the world? We need to make it profitable without GE and agrochemicals or food prices will go down so much that not even you can afford to farm. The whole feeding the world debate is garbage when you understand how unequal the distribution of wealth is and how the elite control the flow of investment. In North america the ammount of food wasted is upwards of 50 percent. Seems like the more we produce the more we waste. Its all backwards.

          • agscienceliterate

            As more and more farm land is lost to urbanization, the pressure is on to ensure that what is left is more highly productive per remaining acre. Organic does not meet that standard, and produces much less per acre — with higher negative environmental impacts due to tillage, water use and runoff, diesel use and air pollution, and less yield per acre — while simultaneously requiring more and more manure from cattle, which per acre are highly inefficient uses of our land.
            https://www.farmland.org/our-work/areas-of-focus/farmland

            Tell us which farming practices from the past you believe will address these realities. Would you adopt farming practices from 1900, when we had only 1.75 billion people on the planet? 1950? Would you tear down cities and return that space to farming? Would you implement mandatory birth control and wait for enough of us to die off that we are back to only a few billion people on the planet?

          • Farmer with a Dell

            Work on reducing food waste, forgen. That’s something you might develop some credibility in doing.

            As for “consolidation” in agriculture, that’s been going on since before the American Civil War as farm kids eagerly defected from arduous rural life to take up manufacturing and merchandizing jobs in urban settings (child labor was the norm – that’s why schools were out of session in the summer). The industrial revolution opened that opportunity and many, many young rural folks seized it with high hopes of an easier, better life. Ironically it was successful commercial agriculture that permitted the rise of urban areas and manufacturing enclaves in the first place — someone had to feed those cities, and it was our modernizing farms that could finally accomplish that (yes, every generation of farmer since the Civil War who intended to remain on the land adopted new techniques and considered himself “modern”).

            By 1900 vast swaths of forest had been cleared, quite a bit of wetlands had been drained and virtually every patch of vaguely arable land was being farmed in some fashion. My ancestors were part of that revolution and maybe some of yours were too. As cities grew so to did opportunities to market food, but also so to did opportunities to leave the farm for easier, more lucrative work in town. My ancestors stuck with farming while many, many others (probably including your ancestors) did not stay on the farm for perfectly good reasons of their own.

            Their vacant farms became available to buy and lease, my ancestors purchased some, rented some, concentrated their attention on farming the best, most appropriate and productive ground and retired the marginal ground (a lot of land where forests had been cleared was poor quality land for farming that caused a lot of financial heartbreak for small farmers who happened to occupy those hardscrabble farms – a lot of these old farms have since grown back to forest. We actually have more acres of forest land today in the U.S. than we did before 1900!)

            So, you can see how growth in farm size and your dreaded “consolidation” were a natural consequence of urbanization and migration off the farms. As we adopted technology to help us be more and more productive, to feed the cities and, yes, “the world” (farmers have gone from feeding something like 8 or 10 urbanites per farmer to now over 500, maybe more) naturally that technology became better and more sophisticated. Only a handful of companies specializing in those technologies are needed to meet our demands and, so, not every Tom, Dick and Mary can be in a cottage industry supplying technology to farms. Sort of like how there are really only a handful of significant automobile manufacturers – it’s complicated work in a very competitive market that not everyone can do out of their basement – no conspiracy or evil masterplan, just capitalism driven fundamentally by consumers. Same with agriculture. Of course the government interferes with “subsidies” (and crushing regulations) for agriculture and, lately, bailouts for auto manufacturers (they’ve always had protective tariffs and crushing regulations, too). The government piece gets a lot of bad press but it’s really not nearly as important as people like to think. Consumers still drive the markets that drive agriculture and the auto industry.

            And you are right, forgen, when you say not everyone can “afford to farm”. Farming is not like any job you have ever held – to this day a farm will show a profit one year, a loss another, and we understand that and cope with it, some more effectively than others. The irony is that coping with weather and price volatility means investing heavily in land, livestock facilities, crop inputs, and technology. Extreme bad luck has occasionally forced farmers out of business, but most often they have gone out because the next generation had no interest or capacity to continue farming, so the current generation stopped investing in the farm, really pretty much just rode out the final years until selling the land to developers, speculators or other farmers. Most of the farmsteads (house, barns, a few surrounding acres) you now see being sold as country homes or “farmettes”. Farmers like me and my extended family usually work the surrounding land (if it is good enough) and try to be good neighbors to the yuppie “farmette” dwellers (most of ’em don’t make it any easier for us than they have to). My extended family’s farms have each grown larger and more modern with every decade and every generation. Each has, itself become less diversified or more specialized but between us we still produce a wide variety of farm products for sale (and quite a few more farm products for domestic consumption, hobbies and a tiny bit of roadside sales). That’s been successful for us. Some farmers make a specialty of organic farming – it’s just a different set of technologies, more primitive or reminiscent I suppose, but technologies all the same, make no mistake.

            So, all that history telling to help you understand what you’re actually talking about when you go off on “consolidation” and “farmers per consumers”. What you are actually talking about with your ideal of little organic farms blanketing the landscape is subsistence farming that feeds one family in good years, starves them in poor years and contributes little or nothing to feeding insurance salespeople and doctors and truck drivers and hair stylists and postmen and auto mechanics and their families.

            So maybe turn your ambition to reducing food waste, forgen, and lay off pelting farmers like me with your misinformed anger and misguided intentions for putting us all out of business or forcing us all to stoop labor in the fields. Just lay off the bad mouthing. Won’t have to be no trouble that way.

          • Farmer with a Dell

            Oh, forgen, I neglected to distill the history of an actual agrarian utopia that should be of intense interest to you. It was, of course, well intended and corresponded roughly to your own prescription to create a landscape teeming with peasant farmers all cheerfully working the good earth in crisp social order with traditional hand tools and even a few draft animals.

            This very real agrarian utopia was formed just 40 years ago by a visonary named Pol Pot in Cambodia. But his wonderful dream was cut short when the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia and disbanded his blissful farming communities.

            http://www.historyplace.com/worldhistory/genocide/pol-pot.htm

            The plan was simple. Much as you would do, forgen, I must suppose, Pol Pot first seized all land in the nation and evacuated the cities, marching everyone into the countryside where they would all fulfill their dreams of becoming farmers.

            The early stages of the national plan, as you can well imagine, were rocky, to say the least. First Pol Pot knew he had a lot of people with professional and academic backgrounds – they were dangerous shills – and he had to get rid of them so they wouldn’t louse up his good work with a lot of science and facts. This chore he accomplished with great alacrity, to his credit, I guess.

            Then he discovered that not everyone was cut out to be a farmer, so he lost a few precious months trying to retrain those miscreants but soon understood they, too must be gotten rid of. These people obviously had been under the influence of those evil professional and academic shills, they had been brainwashed into incorrigible troublemakers and nuisances and were of no value to the farms. They were a detriment so they finally were disposed of.

            Once those evil conspirators were all out of the picture, Pol Pot finally had a nice pliable work force and he rewarded them by closely policing their lives in every detail, so as to relieve them of the unnecessary burden of thinking for themselves and possibly making mistakes. They had their work assigned for them, They had their neighbors and living quarters assigned for them. All food was carefully monitored and strictly rationed to assure no food waste occurred and no worktime was lost to obesity-related diseases It was, without doubt, a well regulated dietary public service to thrill the heart of our modern day authoritarian food police! Even their marriages were assigned for them. Pol Pot had thought of everything of course. Knowing everything, he graciously bestowed his knowledge upon them all in this munificent and lavish fashion.

            The stage finally was set for the agrarian utopian principle to gloriously prove itself. But, alas, Vietnamese intruders overran the wonderful Cambodian farms and “liberated” the happy peasants, unfairly casting them out to be forced to risk the peril of making their own decisions, once again. And the media made a big fuss over the shills that had gotten what they deserved — called it the “killing fields” and unfairly slandered the entire process, making it sound like dead shills were almost human once. They said people were miserable on the farms. They made it all sound like a terrible mistake.

            So, unfortunately we will never know the bliss that would certainly have overtaken the agrarian utopia of Cambodia. But perhaps you, forgen, can install your own agrarian utopia here in America and, at long last, show an admiring and envious world exactly how it should be done?

          • Twan

            For more depressing reading about agricultural
            disasters as a consequence of ideology taking over reason I recommend Tombstone
            by Yang Jisheng, dealing with Moa’s Great Leap Foreward.

          • Jason

            And while there are far more people on the planet, far less are starving. People advocating a return to the old ways haven’t studied their history.

            https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/2c0407696f88fdae1f153c391349ea1b08b1da4282955b2ed7bf92db364baf35.gif

          • hyperzombie

            Hmmm. is Organic starvation better than being well fed? I will ask the local Hipster Vegan that works at Starbucks as a Barista, they know far more about agriculture, the plight of the poor and Organics than anyone on the planet.

          • Farmer with a Dell

            forgen, I recommend you read and reread what Rickinreal wrote. He’s spot on (the only thing I might point out is we’ve known about and used cover crops on and off for a couple or three generations).

            Carbon is still one legitimate measure of relative sustainability and eco-friendliness of a farming technique. You look silly turning 180 degrees just because you’ve learned no-till is superior in carbon & GHG reduction. You really should open your mind and reconsider.

            True, you can’t manufacture modern synthetic ag chemicals in your kitchen, but neither can you mine, smelt, cast, machine & weld iron tools and farm equipment that organic farmers like to use. Try manufacturing your own gasoline, see how that works out for ya.

            As to your misconception about the evils of “monoculture” I refer you to this balanced explanation by Steve Savage (yes, I know, Savage knows what he’s talking about because he has a lifetime of experience working in the industry but, no, that does not make him a lying shill and the random opinion of someone unfamiliar with the subject is not preferable):

            http://appliedmythology.blogspot.com/2014/08/do-gmo-crops-foster-monoculture.html

            As for your “pollinating insects”, those are NOT being harmed by Roundup or GE crops. Not in China, either (rumors always seem to cite unfounded reports of disaster from a remote and distant place – in China they probably believe poppycock about the USA). Here’s a pretty good recent summary of what’s up with honeybees in the US, a good place to begin actually learning something factual if you’re willing to do so:

            https://geneticliteracyproject.org/2016/06/10/hawaii-honey-bee-die-off-points-likely-culprits-not-pesticides-varroa-viruses/

            As for populating the landscape with tiny organic farms, well, there is nothing stopping you from doing that except those little farms are not technically or economically feasible and there are too few people actually willing to work that hard for that standard of living. If you came up with feasible working examples of those little organic farms we ALL would take an interest and begin transitioning in a heartbeat (How do you think we brought modern ag to where it is? We keep transitioning to what works best, it’s what we’ve always done – it is NOT some evil masterplan we all have sworn fealty to, honest injun.)

            So, I’ve gone out on a limb here and tried to reason with you. No doubt you will make me regret doing so. We all strive to make the world a little better place in our own fashion, some of us making more concrete progress than others who only dream and talk…and criticize. You can attack me some more and call me an evil shill and a poisoner and all that (I really don’t care, it makes me laugh at you) or you can accept my remarks, and those of all the others here as sincere, as experienced and as accurate and truthful as we can make them. Because of that we all sleep well at night and wake each morning excited to make our contribution to feeding society and maybe progress our industry a bit more in doing so. Our passion for our chosen livelihoods and our success animates us to keep exploring and moving forward. Bitter critics, like yourself, evidently don’t have that in your lives. A pity.

          • agscienceliterate

            Thank you, FWAD, and to all farmers who work ungodly hours to produce a huge variety of healthy and affordable food for us, in ways that sustain our soils, air and water. I am immensely appreciative of, and grateful to, our farmers.

          • Jason

            Ain’t that the truth. Farming is a thankless job. And if you sit down & figure out the hourly wage, I’m sure it’d be embarrassingly low. People do it because they love it.

          • hyperzombie

            True, you can’t manufacture modern synthetic ag chemicals in your kitchen, but neither can you mine, smelt, cast, machine & weld iron tools and farm equipment that organic farmers like to use.”

            Well, most kitchens. There are hillbillies around here that strip and repair engines in their living rooms, I am sure that at least one of them has a wielder in the kitchen. Cant use the wielder in the living room, the shag carpet will start on fire…..

          • Farmer with a Dell

            Yep. Well, actually I still sometimes weld in my living room but since the big fire I am strictly forbidden to smelt iron ore in the house. The Dutchess simply no longer allows it. She says I already have my hands more than full rebuilding the 350 small block out of her ’78 Blazer and she’s hinting more and more frequently lately she’d like me to finally get it out of the tub so she can take a bath.

          • hyperzombie

            Darn women, you cant have anything nice with them around. No forges in the kitchen, no welders in the living room, you cant even put 100 calves in the garage, without complaints. And really everyone knows how to take a shower with a small block 350 in the tub, it is a V8, plenty of room.

          • forgenerationstocome

            To till or not to till is largely a matter of whether or not one uses herbicides. If you do not then there is not really any other option than to rototill. I have respect for all farmers who work hard and produce food so I am carefull not to say that Conventional and GE farmers arn’t trying to do the right thing. I am however firmly convinced that Certified Organic as “best practices approach” it is the only long term sustainable practice for feeding the world, anyone who claims it cannot work hasn’t looked at what some people are accomplishing (ie record yields per acre – and that is the key : net yeild per acre) . And I wouldn’t say that if I hadn’t done the work and research. There is no way that we can keep burning fossil fuels to make synthetic fertilizers and using questionable herbicides and pesticides that persist and bioaccumulate up the foodchain. You can argue that Glyphosate is a magic herbicide that is safe but that would mean taking Monsanto’s word for it and I just don’t think they have enough credibility for thatn due to their horrible health and safety record. Sure we will still need manufacturing for farm equipment and refineries for fuel but a lot more farmers spread out over the country engaged in growing a variety of crops is far more efficient in terms of food and fuel wastage. It also has the not so trival benefit of added food security in times of crop failure and economic instability. GE tech often tries to solve the problems created by modern AG’s perpetual tendency to reduce imput costs. Its all backwards. In our efforts to stay in the business we are selling out the possibility that our children will ever want to farm. The crisis of losing farmers is on par with the crisis of polluting our soil and water.

          • Farmer with a Dell

            Well, you’re convinced you have all the answers and you’ve made up your mind, forgen, and that’s fine. Buy the farm and all the tools, give it hell and let us know how it works out after 8 or 10 seasons. Got any kids you need to put through college during that time?

            Good luck convincing the rest of America they must do the same thing. Maybe after you demonstrate how easy and lucrative it is people will take you seriously?

            Knock yourself out. Just don’t be too devastated when you learn a thing or two about farming and about what’s “backward” and what isn’t. Just sayin’

          • agscienceliterate

            Have you ever noticed how when these guys have their little fantasy plans on how to do stuff, it won’t work unless they involve all of us and make us all do the same thing ? They can’t just go off and do it themselves. Oh, no: they have to make everyone else do it before their little thing works. Which is why his little thing won’t work.

          • Farmer with a Dell

            Yep. And it’s always everyone else who is wrong and corrupt and malicious and who is poisoning and killing and destroying and wasting with impunity. That self absorbed notional crap is the moral absolutist’s reason for being, it is their call to arms. They are determined to “make the world a better place” according to their own twisted version of the altie agenda, by God, and that means making everyone straighten up and fly right, making all of us toe the mark, or else! Always the urgent intention of razing successful modern agriculture to the ground and starting over; blanketing the landscape with humble little organic subsistence farms where social equality will be assured – everyone will be equally over-worked, equally poor, equally hungry in times of famine, equally ignorant, equally compliant with the ruling agenda (everyone except a small overprivileged ruling class of genius administrators, of whom the expounding genius will be a cherished member, no doubt). Oh, and always the arbitrary key component around which all farms will be established — rototilling for this dreamer, permaculture for another loopy pontificator, roller/crimpers for another social media genius, compost for yet another myopic visionary. There’s never any doubt exactly which pie-in-the-sky morsel any of these flaming arseholes are enamored with at the moment.

            Thank goodness these aspiring autocrats seldom get to play out their cynical authoritarian fantasies in real life. I think the last time such an agricultural visionary forcefully delivered his people into a well-ordered agrarian utopia was 40 years ago in southeast Asia — it was a determined patriot named Pol Pot. The grand plan was eerily the same as that of today’s alties, right down to singling out and silencing educated people, professionals and academics, people considered to be dangerous shills standing in the way of achieving peasant agrarian perfection. He literally marched everyone at gunpoint out of the cities into the countryside to realize each urbanite’s lifelong dream of becoming a peasant farmer (I can just see today’s aspiring agrarian utopians peeing themselves with excited anticipation of forcefully elevating their fellow urbanites to organic gardening nirvana). Anyway, we all know how that finally worked out.

            http://www.historyplace.com/worldhistory/genocide/pol-pot.htm

          • hyperzombie

            Organic is a Marketing scheme to separate the agricultural illiterate from their money. Organic farming started in the 1970s, and to be productive with Organic farming you also need products that man needs to make.

            Monoculture is growing the same crop in the same field, 99.999% of all farming is done this way. Ancient peoples also used monoculture farming, what do you think they grow in all those terraced Asian rice paddies?

          • forgenerationstocome

            Did you just say that organic farming started in the 70’s. Thats funny. Maybe You mean 1970’s BC. Organic farming is just we called farming before we started using excess chemicals made for warfare.

          • hyperzombie

            Nope, I mean the 1970s AD.
            Before that it was conventional farming, all the way back to the very first farms, about 15,000 years ago. Farmers have always used chemicals, sulfur compounds, copper compounds, arsenic compounds, refined salts, refined coal tars, (these chemicals were also used in ancient wars)and all kinds of other chemicals.

            Once again Organic is just a MARKETING scheme to fleece people like you out of money, and you are falling for it hook line and sinker. Sucker.

          • Farmer with a Dell

            Hyperzombie is absolutely correct about organic farming being a recent scheme.

            Since the topic came up and since I’m feeling in a mood to be like sort of a historian, here’s the poop…

            Some claim the term “organic farming” was first used about 1940 to describe hypothetical differences between conventional agriculture and a nascent philosophical notion that “chemicals” were not “natural” and they might possibly be unnecessary to produce sufficient food for the masses. The vague idea that commercial scale farms could be successfully managed “organically” was readily adopted by disciples of health fanatics Howard and Steiner and the dreamy ideology continued to be talked about and flamboyantly promoted, still as a hypothetical notion, by health guru and publisher of Prevention magazine, J.I. Rodale until his death in 1971. Rodale famously dropped dead while taping an appearance on the Dick Cavet show, ironically moments after theatrically declaring his superior health and asserting with certainty he would live to be 100 years old (Rodale wasn’t anywhere close to being 100 years old and the show never aired). Seems Rodale’s notions about organic farming were not the only hypothetical notions he had been trading upon through the previous decades.

            By 1970 “organic farming” had scaled up from organic gardening only to the degree that it was attempted by various communal groups of the day, hippies they called themselves. In spite of a lot of brave talk and distracted philosophical mumbo jumbo, in virtually every instance hippie communes proved the infeasibility of “organic farming” to adequately nourish a group of people of any size. Invariably food, basic and supplemental, regularly had to be procured from ordinary stores. Thus the first experiments in “sustainability” were demonstrated and the null hypothesis proved (and so it stands to this day).

            Out of all this ephemeral farting around emerged a small but lucrative market for “organically grown” produce. If hippies and other devotees must resign themselves to the reality they couldn’t actually farm all this stuff for themselves, then they would purchase select “organically grown” commodities from people who specialized in claiming they could. The produce that filled this market niche was usually grubby and of inferior quality, not to mention much of it was of deeply dubious provenance, particularly in regard to “organic” claims. By this time, “organic” meant pretty much whatever anyone, buyer or seller preferred to imagine it might mean. So long as no one rocked the boat by asking any hard questions it could be mutually agreed the product was “organic” enough and everyone went away feeling smart and self-important.

            By the year 2000, the “organic” philosophy had been crafted into a magnificent free-for-all, a big tent movement sheltering cheats, charlatans and quacks of all descriptions, all deliberately misinforming and preying upon gullible paying customers. Oddly, USDA chose to step in to try to clean up the reprehensible organic carnival, even though FDA had set a precedent by essentially recusing itself from oversight of the rapacious nutritional supplement racket.

            In December, 2000 secretary of agriculture Dan Glickman announced new USDA rules and standards for the organic foods marketplace and authorized an official “USDA certified organic” label. Glickman cautioned at the time that the certification “is not a statement about food safety, nor is `organic’ a value judgment about nutrition or quality.” It was, and still is, merely a marketing classification. Glickman’s cautions were summarily ignored, of course, and since no code of marketing ethics was established crooked organic pitchmen now reached for the stars and beyond.

            Recognizing and endorsing organics would turn out to be a colossal blunder by USDA, one that only emboldened the organic clown circus to embark on a ruthlessly dishonest marketing campaign, misinforming and fleecing naive customers with relentlessly untruthful claims and an odious hate-speech-for-protit sales pitch blatantly defaming and slandering American agriculture.

            All of the many fraudulent claims for “organic” foods have now been debunked, but owing to deceptive advertising practices those myths persist in the market place. Likewise, organic profiteers persist in attempting to differentiate their unremarkable products by brazenly fomenting lies and fear mongering around modern conventional agriculture.

            So, there in a nutshell you have the true history of “organic agriculture”. It ain’t exactly what you were led to believe, is it? Welcome to reality, girls.

            http://appliedmythology.blogspot.com/2015/03/hate-speech-for-profit-organic.html

            http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevensavage/2016/03/19/why-i-dont-buy-organic-and-why-you-might-want-to-either/#97a4071c2e49

          • agscienceliterate

            Forgen, even if all 7.4 billion people on the planet were as wealthy as Donald Drump, there still is only so much land available to farm. Money does not “grow” food. Using available land in the most efficient way possible (not organic, measured by yield per acre and inputs per acre) reduces the farming footprint per person fed.

  • napoleon

    I remember when I worked on an organic farm a few years ago we tilled the rows because the crop we harvested would break down and provide nutrients to the soil. To fertilize we used kelp and other seaweed. It was a simple process and made sense because it mimicked what nature did over periods of time. In my opinion, no tilling doesn’t promote or protect biology in the soil, it sterilizes it.

    • JoeFarmer

      ” In my opinion, no tilling doesn’t promote or protect biology in the soil, it sterilizes it.”

      LOL!

    • hyperzombie

      It was a simple process and made sense because it mimicked what nature did over periods of time

      I didnt know that nature plowed fields every year,,,Hmm,, learn something new everyday.. Oh and can you give her a ring and have her come over to my place to plow my field, I will send the GPS coordinates…Thanks in advance.

      • forgenerationstocome

        I think he was referring to the crops breaking down and how tilling accelerated the process. Breaking up the plant matter by rototilling is comparable to microorganisms in the soil disintegrating it over a season.

        • hyperzombie

          Rototilling is horrible for the soil, it breaks down the soil structure.

    • Farmer with a Dell

      When the heck did “nature” stop hauling “kelp and seaweed” to all our acres? That must have happened when we quit doing so much plowing and tillage, eh? Why is that?

      For anyone concerned with the environment and carbon footprints, harvesting kelp and seaweed, processing and trucking the stuff thousands of miles, well, that’s just a lame fuel hogging enterprise no matter how you figure it. Who the hell dreams up this stuff?

      If no-till sterilizes the soil why haven’t 651 million acres of grassland lost all life forms due to lack of mechanical tillage by know-it-all seaweed smoking hippies?

      It must come as a shock to some of you to learn farming is quite a skilled occupation. Stupid farmers don’t stick. Stupid anti-farm dreamers seem to be the norm. Lord save us from the do-gooders for they know not their ass from their elbow.

  • BillF77

    Bill Freese with Center for Food Safety here. For the record, Jon and Rebecca never contacted me for this article, and they and Nathaniel Johnson at GRIST misrepresented my views. Typical behavior for the Genetic Illiteracy Project. Here’s the real scoop. Jon and Rebecca make no reference to soil erosion in U.S. agriculture, and reduced soil erosion is after all the bottom line benefit that Roundup Ready crops are supposed to deliver. Well, it turns out that soil erosion rates in the Midwest have been flat during the Roundup Ready era (1997-2010), after huge declines BEFORE Roundup Ready (RR) crops were introduced (1982-1997). That comes straight from the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. As my colleague Doug Gurian-Sherman says, declining soil erosion before RR crops reflects Farm Bill incentives offered to farmers to adopt conservation tillage and also to put land into the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Conservation tillage incentives and enforcement were weakened dramatically after 1996. CRP acreage has been in decline since 2007. So soil erosion rates are stagnant. The major impact of RR crops has been to generate an epidemic of glyphosate-resistant weeds, which have spurred more herbicide use, tillage, or both.

    • Kevin Mallborg

      Farmers are moving to other HT soybeans like Liberty Link for no-till applications. Ever hear of it? It’s not a secret.

      Here’s a seed catalog farmers use. http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/trilix/stineseed_2015/#/16

      Most antiGMO people don’t even know who Stine is. His company licenses traits to Monsanto and others. 60% of all soybeans have Stine traits.

      http://www.forbes.com/sites/alexmorrell/2014/03/26/can-this-man-feed-the-world-billionaire-harry-stines-quest-to-reinvent-agriculture-again/

      • Mlema

        He likely referred to “RoundUp Ready” Glyphosate-tolerant crops because, as the earliest versions of herbicide tolerant crops, those have historically been used in conjunction with no-till methods -and used during the time he’s referencing. But the “Liberty” pesticides follow the same model, with glufinosate-tolerance. So, same mechanisms and criticisms apply. It’s about herbicide tolerance and no-till. It would also apply to dicamba or 2,4D resistance.

    • JoeFarmer

      What a pantload!

      You’re just making a poor attempt at creating a smokescreen by conflating fewer CRP acres with the reduction of soil erosion by reduced tillage methods that are facilitated by HT crops.

      You might as well be saying, “Airbags aren’t working because there are more people driving”.

      I guess there’s a reason why guys like you and Doug Hyphen-Hyphen have to work for agricultural creationist groups.

    • TecumsehUnfaced

      The only purpose of this site and its executive director is the promotion of wealth extraction by agribusiness. Note that you only got two responses, which were from two of the myriad of corporate trolls comprising almost the total population of commenters on this site.

      • Kevin Mallborg

        LOL! An anticapitalism troll calling others trolls.

        • TecumsehUnfaced

          “Anitcapitalism troll?” another antidote to corporate disinformation agents”

          I know that every time I threaten someone’s extraction game with truth, I will be slimed.

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            Extraction. Nope, that is what a dentist does. Your wording clearly gives away your bias. Farmers invest, take risk, work, and sometimes make a profit. This profit is not extracted. It is paid voluntarily by customers. Who often thank me as I thank them at the market. The transaction is mutually beneficial.

    • Farmer Sue

      That’s why farmers laugh at your Center for “Food Safety,” Bill. There is no epidemic of glyphysate-resistance weeds. There is less herbicide use, and much less tillage. Less tillage results in less soil erosion. You really didn’t know that? Typical ignorant response from your anti-science group.

  • Kevin Mallborg

    It’s a few years old, but here’s a nice review on no-till versus conventional versus organic soybeans: http://www.soyconnection.com/pdf/usbs_position/English/USB_CAST_English_HI.pdf

    for No-till beans:
    • 93 percent decrease in soil erosion
    • Preservation of one billion tons of top soil
    • 70 percent reduction in herbicide run-off
    • 326 million lbs reduction in CO2
    emissions

    It’s not really suppose to be flying under the radar, but nonfarmer people haven’t even generally heard of broad spectrum glufosinate (Liberty) tolerant soybeans for no-till applications.

    I count 96 different Liberty Link soybean varieties in the Stine catalog alone. Stine is the company most antiGMO people have never even heard of though 60% of all soybeans have their traits.

    They license their soybean traits “to” Monsanto and others. Liberty Link is a trait of Bayer actually, but Stine has many other traits they license.

    2015 Stine seed Catalog: http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/trilix/stineseed_2015/#/16

    • Stuart M.

      Ssssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh….! (about the Stine Company).

      • JoeFarmer

        Harry didn’t become a billionaire by being a wall flower. And Myron is a really sharp guy, too.

  • William

    Good article overall but lacking a little in basic agronomy…
    “It also uses more fuel since tilling requires another pass through the field with a tractor.” – actually, tilling requires at least 2-3 more passes through the field – plough, disc harrow +/- pin harrow.
    “Tilling also requires the use of carbon belching combine harvesters.” – huh? You use a combine harvester to harvest the crop; no till or tilled makes no difference to this!

  • Eric Huttner

    Good post but what is the link between tillage and combine harvesters? “Tilling also requires the use of carbon belching combine harvesters” Even conservation farmed crops need harvesting using combines. The sentence suggest a lack of familiarity with cropping, it should be clarified or removed.
    Eric

    • Farmer Sue

      With GE crops meaning that far fewer passes are needed over the fields, the “carbon belching” is far reduced. And, tilling is avoided. Dual benefit. Triple benefit, when you consider increased yield.

      • I think that’s understood, but “combine harvesters” harvest, not till. They are not dual purpose machines.

    • marcbrazeau

      That should have read “tractors”, not combine harvesters.

  • Stephen Biles

    Problem in the 7th paragraph: “Tilling also requires the use of carbon belching combine harvesters.” Whether you till the ground or not, the combine harvester is what you use to gather the grain at harvest time.

  • Why did this report omit the use of Roller Crimpers with Notill/cover crop farming to eliminate herbicide use?
    http://blogs.wsj.com/numbers/can-organic-farming-counteract-carbon-emissions-1373/

    • Farmer with a Dell

      Omission of roller crimper tactics is no great loss in this article…or any other.

      Introduced by the Rodale Institute (perhaps the paramount organic propagandists of all time) the cover crop/roller crimper/no till sequence of organic operations delivers wildly variable performances from season to season. Extensive tests at Michigan State during 2004-2007 were tersely summarized as “results…mixed” (the objective finding) softened with “researchers are optimistic about its future…” (the compulsory uplifting subjective boosterism accompanying all things alt-ag).

      http://www.covercrops.msu.edu/crimper/about.html

      It is the hallmark of alternative agriculture schemes always to excuse their mediocre performance as “a work in progress” but inevitably glowingly described as “showing wonderful promise” or “expected in the indefinite future to perform miracles” or some other such wishful nonsense. After nearly a half century of applied zealotry and frustrated genius we still do not have reliable organic methodologies that can be scaled up. Instead only so-so results brightly overwritten with idle promises and wishful thinking.

      The evident flaw in the cover crop/roller crimper/no till pipe dream is the additive risk of it’s serial operations. The cover crop must be a perfect stand, the roller crimper & no till planter must perform without a hitch to assure a good, vigorous catch of the intended crop, and most of all the weather must cooperate flawlessly throughout the first half of the season to keep crops progressing ahead of the weeds, thereby keeping weeds in check. That’s a lot to ask of real-life farming situations year in and year out. Too much, actually

      When the alt-ag cult finally comes up with workable methodology, whatever it might be, we will adopt it into our conventional routines and be grateful for the progress, as we always have. But for much too long a time up to now all we have been shown are fragile prototype test plots at best, more often we are pitched with nothing more than gargantuan volumes of deceptive rhetoric gilded heavily enough to make P.T. Barnum blush.

      We already have all the idle promises we can use. What we need are demonstrated results at scale.

      • Your dialogue is what farmers like Gabe Brown and David Brandt faced when they inititated notill/cover crop farming, drastically reducing their reliance and overhead on synthetic fertilizers/herbicides and tillage expense.
        http://www.sare.org/Events/National-Conference-on-Cover-Crops-and-Soil-Health/Cover-Crop-Innovators-Video-Series

        • Farmer with a Dell

          Ah, another choreographed head fake plucked straight from the S.A.R.E. playbook:

          SARE Cheap Trick # 146: when unable to produce results resort to plagiarism — simply repaint an extant wooden wheel and brazenly claim credit for reinventing it — we will gladly pay you for it.

          Your blow buddies Gabe and Davie-Doo did not invent cover cropping..Any altie who is conned by them into believing they did is not only scientifically illiterate and agriculturally illiterate, but historically illiterate as well. Your basic alt-ag bimbo isn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed — she’s easy, she will fall for almost anything.

          Here are a couple quickie refs from folks who at least acknowledge the centuries-long and storied heritage of cover crops:

          http://iv.ucdavis.edu/files/24445.pdf

          https://extension.umd.edu/sites/default/files/_images/programs/anmp/cover_crops_Jan13_%20webinar.pdf

          Oh, and don’t bother scamming us with a tall tale about how your car pool pals Frick and Frack invented crop rotation during a SARE visioning session in Passaic, New Jersey in 1994.

          S.A.R.E. — Proudly Paying Burned-out Hippies and Broke Professors To Reinvent The Wooden Wheel Since 1988

  • Roger Larson

    poorly written