Friday, October 30, 2009

Another take...

Heard from the IL Corn Growers today.  This is the (lengthy headline):

CONSERVATION IS KING: DID YOU KNOW THAT CORN FARMERS CUT SOIL EROSION 44 PERCENT IN TWO DECADES BY TILLING THE SOIL LESS? [More]

OK. Not quibbling with that conclusion, but wait - there's more!

Here's the source data.

 So my take-away (you have to say that frequently in any serious communications discussion) is this graph.



Source: IDOA

As you can see from the IL Dept of Ag survey linked above, there are several esoteric categories of "till".  I lump them together as "not-no-till", because what farmers are always pointing to environment-wise is how no-till answers critic's questions.

Remember Blake Hurst's now famous answer to Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma.
The biggest environmental harm I have done as a farmer is the topsoil (and nutrients) I used to send down the Missouri River to the Gulf of Mexico before we began to practice no-till farming, made possible only by the use of herbicides. The combination of herbicides and genetically modified seed has made my farm more sustainable, not less, and actually reduces the pollution I send down the river.  [More]

It may be that Hurst is a committed no-tiller on all his acres, but here in Illinois that experiment is running out of gas, I think.  Read the numbers, build your own graph.  I think we are being a tad duplicitous wrapping ourselves in no-till righteousness when the trend to me looks otherwise.

Most of us know why.  No-tilling corn after corn doesn't work for most of us. As we move to more corn, we move away from no-till, at least on corn/corn acres.  To be sure, no-till beans are climbing somewhat, but let's face it, the fragile soil is bean stubble - not stalks.

Even at face value only 1 acre in 7 of corn is no-tilled in IL and it hasn't changed much in 10 years. Trotting out no-till as our answer to every environmental and energy criticism is dubious misdirection.


Could higher corn prices via more ethanol mandates essentially kill no-till?

I think it's possible.

[One curious note is the sporadic occurrence of this survey.  Don't ask me - our state government is um, hard to rationally explain.  Also, the survey is tabulated in fields, not acres. Again, no idea. Finally, national figures more recent than 2004 are hard to find, but IL was the leading state by acres then.]


7 comments:

Anonymous said...

You are right again John. You are not the only one who is concerned about the lack of soil conservation since ethanol pushed the market for corn. There is a lot of steep highly erodible land around the corn belt that has been converted to corn in the last few years. A lot of farmers are just ignoring the soil erosion problem and deceiving themselves with "no till" comments like the one you describe in your article.

Jay said...

I may be somewhat ignorant on what is going on in your state, but I believe most of your state government can be explained by a single city/county.

Anonymous said...

I get the biggest kick out of farmers that tell me they have been "no-till" for almost 20 years! Yeah right...

buffalobill said...

There were 'no-till' corn planters more than twenty years ago...so some farmers could have been 'no-till' at that time. You are right though, very few farmed completely no-till. Believe it or not, we even had Round-up back then... We had farmers that were real good at conservation, and some that didn't give a *****. Probably like right now, huH?

Anonymous said...

AChalmers had no-till corn planters with coulters in the 60's--where discontinued because A-C thought it would kill big tractor and plow sales...and heavy rates of atrazine with 2-4D would give you clean fields too-kevin

Anonymous said...

John, if we get over the molds and other residue induced dieases, and place our nitrogen right, strip till no-till corn on corn will be the norm, especially if deisel is taxed out of site.
If we can solve the carbon induced, global warming delusion, and get paid for it, I'm all for it, too!( Not really).

Julie said...

Yeah, well we are completely no till, and have been for nearly 20 years. The comment in the article is clearly referencing our farm, and our practices. We're in a 50 50 rotation, and no till works quite well for us. On a wider scale, pesticides clearly substitute for tillage. That was my point, and it isn't "disingenuous" to say so. Blake Hurst