One of the fundamental principles of business, whether in agriculture or anything else, is to stick to tried and proven methods. This statement would suggest that we should avoid any kind of innovation, but this is certainly not my point. Innovation can lead to greater success, but it should be introduced on a limited scale at first, allowing for time to reveal the finer points about how to manage the new method, crop variety, technology, chemical, equipment, etc. The concept of reduced and no tillage agriculture has gone through this process and has been proven.
The idea of reducing tillage in our production systems has been especially challenging since tillage has been a part of crop production for as long as agriculture has existed. You don’t just wave a magic wand and make it go away because it is deeply entrenched in the minds of everyone connected with farming. Deviation from this practice rises almost to the level of heresy with some people, however these systems are slowly but surely taking their place in our area, and will hopefully at some point be generally accepted.
As I work with farmers who in some cases have never grown crops and others who have not since the introduction of herbicide and insect tolerant varieties I have to deal with the peer pressure being placed on them by others. Their neighbors, their bankers, equipment dealers, and in some cases even members of the “government” group like myself can’t seem to accept the idea that crops can be grown without regularly plowing the land. They often “assume” that tillage is being done even when it is not. This incorrect assumption can sometimes prevent producers from growing crops that are needed even though their practices are not destructive to the land.
We need to reevaluate the entire system being employed to administer programs with regard to agricultural land use, including crop selection, crop rotation, tillage system, erosion control, and other issues related to environmental concerns in crop production. I hope this can be done before some of the new (and mostly young) farmers who want to earn their living from the land are able to get established. As it stands today, some of them may be discouraged by our bureaucratic system before they are able to get their (financial) feet on the ground.
I see these issues complicating the work of new producers, primarily in areas where crop production has not been common in the past. Those who administer programs are often uncomfortable with the new issues being presented by this new kind of land use. Rather than become familiar with how agencies can help and support the new producer a negative attitude is commonly presented rather than take the chance of allowing something to be done that “might” not be according to the “rules”. Rather than work closely with the grower to manage the issue, the answer is frequently an almost automatic “no”.
No one is more conscious of conservation than the farmer. The land is his/her life. Like anyone they make mistakes, but not intentionally. Those of us who are assigned to work with them, regardless of whether we are from a university, state or federal agency, should work to help growers, not scare them with regulations that are often obsolete or incomplete. We should be working by their side as they go about the job of producing our food and fiber. The success of these new growers may be a critical factor for our food supply in the coming years. We must be flexible in order to allow for them to accomplish the necessary work needed to bring land back into production and prepare it for the long term to support our growing population.
The application of reduced tillage and no tillage practices is a critical part of this scenario. These systems reduce soil loss well below accepted tolerances, in many cases even below the level of idle lands. Our streams can run clear while we produce more for the future.