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