Though soil benefits from reduced tillage, some producers are turning away from the practice. According to USDA, farmers who grow soybeans and cotton are reducing the number of acres dedicated to no-till while corn and wheat no-till acres rise.
A recent study by USDA’s Economic Research Service examined the frequency at which farmers use conservation tillage. Here are the study’s key findings:
- Conservation tillage is used on 70% of soybean (2012), 65% of corn (2016), 67% of wheat (2017) and 40% of cotton acres (2015)
- Percent of conservation tillage dedicated to no-till varied from 45% of total acreage in wheat (2017) and 40% of total soybean acreage (2012) to 18% of total acreage in cotton (2015) and 27% of total acres in corn (2016)
- No-till varies by region at 34% of total corn acres in the Norther Great Plains, 49% in the Prairie Gateway and 53% in the South
- Farmers will try no-till or strip-till but not many stick with it as 50% of crop acres were in one of these conservation practices at some point over a four-year period but only 20% of those stayed with the practice
Despite negative trends in certain crops, many farmers are still seeing benefits from making the switch to reduced tillage. Notably, soil health benefits, weed control and others top the list of why farmers are switching. According to USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services, farmers should follow four basic principles to promote healthy soil: keep soil covered, reduce disturbance, keep living roots in the soil and diversify rotations and cover crops.
“Conservation tillage, which protects the soil by reducing soil disturbance and keeping the soil covered, is considered to be a key component of a soil health management system,” the agency states in a recent report.