No-till grows, Minnesota lags

One of the best ways to reduce farmland erosion is with a cropping system known as ‘no-till’. With no-till a farmer doesn’t plow the field, but simply plants the new crop in the stubble and plant residue of last year’s crop. A recent study by the U.S. Agriculture Department shows that farmer acceptance and use of no-till is growing. That includes Minnesota, although no-till is generally much less common here than in other parts of the United States.

Take a look at soybeans. The report says that in 2006 about 45 percent of U.S. soybeans fields were ‘no-till’. In Minnesota though the number was just 11 percent.

The reason Minnesota lags is largely thought to be because of the affect of plant material on the surface of the soil. The good part is that the material helps holds the soil in place, preventing wind and water erosion. But the drawbacks are especially noticeable in northern states like Minnesota.

In the spring, all that plant material acts like insulation, holding cold and moisture in the ground. No-till soils warm and dry out slower in the spring than land that is plowed. That means in the spring no-till farmers may have to wait longer to plant. That’s a significant disadvantage, since studies show in most years the earlier a farmer plants, the better.

The USDA intends to track no-till more intensively in the future. Beginning this year, the agency will conduct a single survey about no-till use. In the past, the information was pieced together from several surveys. In some years no-till information about some crops was incomplete because there wasn’t enough data.

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