Ploughing is usually associated with the first step of field labour, but no-till farming shows that farmers can do without it. No-till farming is a centuries-old concept that predates regular farming. However, the rationale for using a no-till approach today differs from centuries ago.
Previously, no-till farming operations were constrained by the basic nature of cultivating equipment or a lack of innovation. Today, rising environmental concerns, the repercussions of no-till agriculture and its sustainable use of natural resources are the primary motivators for its implementation.
The most unusual characteristic of no-till farming is that there is no soil disturbance. “How can I grow my crops then?” is the commonly asked question.
Prior to planting, normal ploughing is done to turn over the top layer. Tillage helps with soil aeration, manure and nutrient absorption, soil loosening for future vulnerable seedling roots, insect and weed control, and pest and weed control.
This agriculture technique, on the other hand, increases soil erosion by eliminating cover matter, disrupting micro-communities and releasing soil carbon into the atmosphere, which contributes to the greenhouse effect.
What it takes
Unlike traditional double-passing the field after ploughing, no-till farming necessitates the use of specialised instruments (disc seeders or agricultural drills) to make furrows, swiftly plant seeds and cover them. Because the hole is drilled precisely where the seed is expected to land, the dirt is modified as little as possible.
Furthermore, planters employ the least amount of fertiliser possible by sending it directly into the furrow through specific tubes. If large yields result in a lot of manure that doesn’t compost effectively, causes diseases, or interferes with planter operations, no-till farming may require some light tilling between seasons. Another example is the usage of lime to neutralise acidic substances.
What about the weeds?
Weeds have always been a challenging aspect of farming since no-till farming cannot kill weeds automatically. Agriculturalists deal with this issue by covering inter-rows with straw, dry grasses or leaf litter. It not only keeps weeds at bay owing to a lack of light, but it also gathers moisture and protects plant roots from the scorching temperature.
In continuous maize cultivation, it reduces the development of weed resistance to chemical control. These weeds will eventually be unable to be killed by any herbicide, since they are survivors of previous management regimes spanning many plant generations. The only way to eliminate weed resistance in this instance, is to cultivate a fresh crop and change the chemical management regime accordingly.
The Rodell Institute defines crop rotation as the practice of growing different crops in succession on the same plot of land in order to preserve soil health, to optimise soil nutrients and to combat pest and weed invasion.
Assume a farmer has planted a corn field. One may plant beans after the corn harvest since maize absorbs a lot of nitrogen, but beans replenish nitrogen to the soil.
A simple rotation may consist of two or three crops, whereas complex rotations may consist of a dozen or more.
Crop rotation is a successful farming practice with several advantages. It helps with the following facts as no-till farming techniques:
• Little soil disturbance;
• Crop residue retention on the soil’s surface aids in soil water absorption;
• The structure or tilth of the soil, as well as moisture retention;
• Boosting of organic matter; and
• Decrease in soil erosion with an increase in crop productivity.
Benefits of no-till farming
Minimal soil erosion: The soil is more resistant to erosion induced by wind and water in no-till farming. This is especially true when there is an enormous amount of mulch cover on the soil surface (stalks, straw, leaves, pods, chaff).
Soil compaction is reduced: Untilled land is less compacted than tilled soil. Tillage ruins the natural soil structure. The loss of structure diminishes the soil’s capacity to tolerate heavy loads like wheel traffic during tillage operations.
The lack of structure also makes the soil more compaction-prone. Many people feel that tillage is required for proper water penetration and root growth. However, after a strong rainfall, tilled soil has all flowed together again, leading many to believe that further tillage is required. In the long term, tillage leads to additional tillage and the soil’s condition deteriorates.
Saves time: Because you only have to travel over a field once (rather than three or more times), no-till farming saves you money on work and can help you get your crops sown before the soil dries up too much.
Lower fuel expenses: In no-till farming, fewer travels over the field mean lower fuel costs.
Reduced soil moisture loss: Because no-till seeding is used, plant leftovers remain on the ground, which can assist to keep the soil wet and protect it from evaporation caused by the sun and wind.
Better soil: When crop residues decay at a sustainable rate on the surface of the ground in untilled fields, various living forms thrive in and on the soil. This results in a richer field ecosystem.
The key drawbacks of no-till farming
The initial investment: The initial expenditure in no-till machinery and spares is one of the most significant barriers to converting from traditional tilling to no-till planting.
However, in general, that investment may be recouped through better crop yields, labor savings, the sale of outmoded tillage equipment, and the reduction or removal of unnecessary tractors. Most areas have a plentiful supply of antique no-till equipment. In reality, the overall equipment cost with no till should be no more than a tillage regimen, and is typically lower.
No-till planting learning curve: Some people may not want to learn a whole new practice of no-till farming, preferring to continue with conventional tillage.
Nevertheless, new products and materials are being generated on a regular basis. No-till does necessitate more skillful administration.
Why does no-till farming matter?
Varying plants have different nutritional needs and are susceptible to diverse illnesses and pests. If a farmer plants the same crop in the same spot year after year, as is common in conventional farming, you pull the same nutrients from the soil over and over again.
Pests and diseases will happily settle in as long as their preferred food source is accessible. In monocultures like these, increased amounts of chemical fertilisers and pesticides are necessary to keep yields high while keeping pests and disease at bay.
Crop rotation helps to restore soil nutrients without the use of synthetic fertilisers.