If you are interested, you might want to look at the article on
no till farming in the July Scientific American (page 70, I think). It
is mostly an industrial approach but the article finishes by saying that
the problems with industrial no till farming (pests and weeds that arise
from monoculture farming and the increasing amounts of agrichemicals
needed to suppress them) can be addressed with organic farming
approaches of crop rotation, interplanting, and the grazing of animals
on the land. The more things change . . .
The article does indeed start on page 70. I have subscribed to that
magazine for many years. That will be one article I will read.
But is this really new news? No-Till talk has been around for years has
it not? I have not read this months mag yet.
It is getting harder and harder to find time to read these days.
The more people that get laid off, the more work gets piled on me.
Enjoy Life ... Dan
Email "dan lehr at comcast dot net". Text only or goes to trash automatically.
Does refuting the industrial farming model pushed by Monsanto constitute
For decades now, since WWII, agribusiness has propagandized that
modern chemicals and equipment could better feed the world. That lie is
slowly coming apart. As you will see, industrial no-till was introduced
to combat the erosion and loss of top soil. But industrial no-till
relies on expensive chemical inputs of fertilizers and increasing
quantities of chemical remedies to combat pests (vegetative and insect
problems) inherent in repeated planting of monocultures in the same
place (Additionally this affects soil cohesion, as as microflora and
fauna are killed.). The answer? Introduction of "organic farming
practices such as crop rotation to prevent pests from establishing
themselves, and reducing the eco-degrading in-puts of pesticides.
Interplanting of pulses or "companion" crops. Using the land to grow
animals which in turn fertilize the land with manure (see excerpt from
"Omnivore's Dilemma" below). The net result is greater total out-put
from the land, fewer costly inputs, and improved human and ecological
This response is based on the article and "The fatal harvest reader :
the tragedy of industrial agriculture" / edited by Andrew Kimbrell. I
found no disagreement between the two sources.
"Grass," so understood, is the foundation of the intricate food chain
Salatin has assembled at Polyface, where a half dozen different animal
species are raised together in an intensive rotational dance on the
theme of symbiosis. Salatin is the choreographer and the grasses are his
verdurous stage; the dance has made Polyface one of the most productive
and influential alternative farms in America.
Though it was only the third week of June, the pasture beneath me had
already seen several rotational turns. Before being cut earlier in the
week for the hay that would feed the farm's animals through the winter,
it had been grazed twice by beef cattle, which after each day-long stay
had been succeeded by several hundred laying hens. They'd arrived
by Eggmobile, a ramshackle portable henhouse designed and built by
Salatin. Why chickens? "Because that's how it works in nature," Salatin
explained. "Birds follow and clean up after herbivores." And so during
their turn in the pasture, the hens had performed several ecological
services for the cattle as well as the grass: They'd picked the tasty
grubs and fly larvae out of the cowpats, in the process spreading the
manure and eliminating parasites. (This is what Joel has in mind when he
says the animals do the work around here; the hens are his "sanitation
crew," the reason his cattle have no need of chemical parasiticides.)
And while they were at it, nibbling on the short cattle-clipped grasses
they like best, the chickens applied a few thousand pounds of nitrogen
pasture-and produced several thousand uncommonly rich and tasty eggs.
After a few week's rest, the pasture will be grazed again, each steer
turning these lush grasses into beef at the rate of two or three pounds
By the end of the season Salatin's grasses will have been transformed by
his animals into some 40,000 pounds of beef, 30,000 pounds of pork,
10,000 broilers, 1,200 turkeys, 1,000 rabbits, and 35,000 dozen eggs.
This is an astounding cornucopia of food to draw from a hundred acres of
pasture, yet what is perhaps still more astonishing is the fact
that this pasture will be in no way diminished by the process-in fact,
it will be the better for it, lusher, more fertile, even springier
underfoot (this thanks to the increased earthworm traffic). Salatin's
audacious bet is that feeding ourselves from nature need not be a
zero-sum proposition, one in which if there is more for us at the end of
then there must be less for nature-less topsoil, less fertility, less
life. He's betting, in other words, on a very different proposition, one
that looks an awful lot like the proverbially unattainable free lunch.
And none of it happens without the grass. In fact, the first time I met
Salatin he'd insisted that even before I-met any of his animals, I get
down on my belly in this very pasture to make the acquaintance of the
less charismatic species his farm was nurturing that, in turn, were
nurturing his farm. Taking the ant's-eye view, he ticked off the census
of a single square foot of pasture: orchard grass, foxtail, a couple of
different fescues, bluegrass, and timothy. Then he cataloged the
legumes-red clover and white, plus lupines-and finally the forbs,
broad-leaved species like plantain, dandelion, and Queen Anne's Lace.
And those were just the plants, the species occupying the surface along
with a handful of itinerant insects; below decks and out of sight
tunneled earthworms (knowable by their castled mounds of rich castings),
pocket gophers, woodchucks, and burrowing insects, all making their dim
way through an unseen wilderness of bacteria, phages, eelish nematodes,
shrimpy rotifers, and miles upon miles of mycelium, the underground
filaments of fungi. We think of the grasses as the basis of this food
chain, yet behind, or beneath, the grassland stands the soil, that
inconceivably complex community of the living and the dead. Because a
healthy soil digests the dead to nourish the living, Salatin calls it
the earth's stomach.
But it is upon the grass, mediator of soil and sun, that the human gaze
has always tended to settle, and not just our gaze, either. A great many
animals, too, are drawn to grass, which partly accounts for our own deep
attraction to it: We come here to eat the animals that ate the grass
that we (lacking rumens) can't eat ourselves. "All flesh is grass." The
Old Testament's earthy equation reflects a pastoral culture's
appreciation of the food chain that sustained it, though the
hunter-gatherers living on the African savanna thousands of years
earlier would have understood the flesh-grass connection just as well.
It's only in our own time, after we began raising our food animals on
grain in Confined Animal Feeding Operations (following the dubious new
equation, All flesh is corn), that our ancient engagement with grass
could be overlooked.
The articles are short so I leave the magazine in the bathroom;o)
All True, I stand corrected ... again :)
The greater and more words against agribusiness and their chemicals the
better. "Scientific American", "Omnivore's Dilemma" and others like
Billy continues the good work towards the truth :)
Enjoy Life and Independence Day ... Dan
Email "dan lehr at comcast dot net". Text only or goes to trash automatically.
As you will see, industrial no-till was introduced
I think your post is a bit too broad in it's scope.
You might be interested to read up on P.A. Yeomans and his farming methods
ie keyline. He was a broadacre farmer who really understood how to conserve
and in fact improve his land with some mechanical tillage (of sorts)
Thanks for bringing P. A. Yeomans to my attention. I'll be sure to read
How ya going? I trust you're in your usual good mood;o)
In what way did you find my comments too broad? From the quote fro my
post, I can only presume that you felt that my commenting on in-puts
was going beyond the discussion of no-till gardening/farming. In truth
the article, itself, broached this subject, so if there are any
thrashing to be meted out, I would direct you to the authors of the
article. My humble self, am only the messenger.
You won't go all narkie on me, will you, if I ask what you see as
the application of P. A. Yeomans principals to gardening? I really
haven't read much yet. It seems as if he wanted to address the needs of
soil organisms, which fits onto organic gardening, and that his
principle efforts were in acquiring sufficient moisture for the soil.
As I said, I haven't read much yet and I may have horribly misconscrewed
everything. I would appreciate your take. If you care to give it.
Since I don't have access to the Scientific American, I can't comment on how
effective your extrapolation from the article is.
However, it occurs to me that there are more than one way of doing something
called "no till" when it applies to an industrial (aka farming) situation.
Fukuoka would be one that you would know (although to both of us, his small
patch of land would be a tad on the small size to be considered a farm, but
then it is one for Japan). He certainly wasn't into increasing fert. or
I didn't know if you knew of Yeomans so thought you might be interested. He
is 'different' in his approach to farming and although his keyline may not
exactly be no till, it is certainly minimal (if that) till. I thought he
would be an example where using a tractor to improve soil fertility and to
minimise use of chemicals may interest you.
Without having read it, would it be about the same as the Scientific
I figure all research/comment about soil/soil life/biota/plant life etc etc,
should have some applicability to gardening but how much would depend upon
the reader and their degree of interest. You and I might get excited about
earthworms and fallen leaves and others might just see them as being a
source of holes in their immaculate lawn or rubbish spoiling the immacualte
greenness of their lawn.
Yep. That is central to his work and given the situation in Oz (dry and
ancient soils with low humus levels and lacking in phosphates) some of his
work has had dramatic results.
You be the judge (as if it could be anyother way;-)
This is the pertinent, last half of the article.
Extract form July, 2008, Scientific American
No-Till: the Quiet Revolution
By David R Huggins and John P Reganold
Betting the Farm
No-till and other conservation till systems can work in a wide range of
climate, soils, and geographic areas. Continuous no-till is applicable
to most crops, with the notable exceptions of wetland rice and root
crops, such as potatoes. Yet in 2004, the most recent year for which
data are available, farmers were practicing no-till on only 236 million
acres world wide - not even 7 percent of total global cropland.
Of the top five countries with areas under no-till, the U.S. ranks first
followed by Brazil, Argentina, Canada and Australia. About 85 percent of
this no-till land lies North and South America. In the US roughly 41
percent of all planted cropland was farmed using conservation tillage
systems in 2004, compared with 26 percent in 1990. Most of that growth
came from expanded adoption of no-till, which more than tripled in that
time, to the point where it was practiced on 22 percent of U.S.
farmland. This no doubt partly reflects the fact that U.S. farmers are
encouraged to meet the definition of conservation tillage to participate
in government subsidy and other programs. In South America, adoption of
no-till farming has been relatively rapid as a result coordinated
efforts by university agricultural-extensions educators and local farm
communities to develop viable no-till cropping systems tailored to their
On the other hand, adoption rates are low in Europe, Africa and most
parts of Asia Embracing no-till has been especially difficult in
developing countries in Africa and Asia because farmers there often use
the crop residues for fuel, animal feed and other purposes. Furthermore,
the specialized seeders required for sowing crops and the herbicides
needed for weed control may not be available or can be prohibitively
expensive for growers in these parts of the world. Meanwhile, in Europe,
an absence of government policies promoting no-till, along with elevated
restrictions on pesticides (including herbicides), among other
variables, leaves farmers with little incentive to adopt this approach.
Changing from tillage-based farming to no-till is not easy. The
difficulty of the transition, together with the common perception that
no-till incurs a greater risk of crop failure or lower net returns than
conventional agriculture, has seriously hindered more widespread
adoption of this approach. Although farmers accept that agriculture is
not a fail-safe profession, they will hesitate to adopt a new farming
practice if the risk of failure is greater than in conventional
practice. Because no-till is a radical departure from other farming
practices, growers making the switch to no-till experience a steep
learning curve. In addition to the demands of different field practices,
the conversion has profound impacts on farm soils and fields. Different
pest species can arise with the shift from tillage-based agriculture to
no-till, for instance. And the kinds of weeds and crop diseases can
change. For example, the elevated moisture levels associated with
no-till can promote soil-borne fungal diseases that tillage previously
kept in check. Indeed, the discovery of new crop diseases has sometimes
accompanied the shift to no-till.
Some of the changes that follow from no-till can take years or even
decades to unfold, and farmers need to remain vigilant and adaptable to
new, sometimes unexpected, situations, such as those that arise from
shifts in soil and residue conditions or fertilizer management. During
this transition, there is a real risk of reduced yields and even failed
crops. In the Palouse (farm in Washington State), for example, some
farmers who attempted no-till in the l98Os are no longer in business.
Consequently, farmers looking to switch to no-till should initially
limit the converted acreage to 10 to 15 percent of their total farm.
Farmers who are new to no-till techniques often visit successful
operations and form local or regional support groups, where they share
experiences and discuss specific problems. But the advice they receive
in areas with limited no-till adoption can be incomplete or
contradictory, and gaps in knowledge, experience or technology can have
potentially disastrous outcomes. If the perception that no-till is
riskier than conventional techniques develops in a farming community,
banks may not underwrite a no-till farmer's loan. Alternatively, growers
who are leasing land may find that the owners are opposed to no-till
because of fears that they will not get paid as much. Improving the
quality of information exchange among farmers, universities,
agribusinesses and government agencies will no doubt go a long way
toward overcoming these obstacles.
Yet even in the hands of a seasoned no-till farmer, the system has
drawbacks. No-till crop production on fine-textured, poorly drained
soils can be particularly problematic, often resulting in decreased
yields. Yields of no-till corn, for instance, are often reduced by 5 to
10 percent on these kinds of soils, compared with yields with
conventional tillage, particularly in northern regions. And because the
crop residue blocks the sun's rays from warming the earth to the same
degree as occurs with conventional tillage, soil temperatures are colder
in the spring, which can slow seed germination and curtail the early
growth of warm-season crops, such as corn, in northern latitudes.
In the first four to six years, no-till demands the use of extra
nitrogen fertilizer to meet the nutritional requirements of some crops,
too-up to 20 percent more than is used in conventional tillage
systems-because increasing organic matter at the surface immobilizes
nutrients, including nitrogen. And in the absence of tillage, farmers
depend more heavily on herbicides to keep weeds at bay.
Herbicide-resistant weeds are already becoming more common on no-till
farms. The continued practice of no-till is therefore highly dependent
on the development of new herbicide formulations and other weed
management options. Cost aside, greater reliance on agrichemicals may
adversely affect non-target species or contaminate air, water and soil.
No-till has the potential to deliver a host of benefits that are
increasingly desirable in a world facing population growth,
environmental degradation, rising energy costs and climate change, among
other daunting challenges. But no-till is not a cure-all; such a thing
doesn't exist in agriculture. Rather it is part of larger, evolving
vision of sustainable agriculture, in which a diversity of farming
methods from no-till to organic-and combinations there of-is considered
healthy. We think that ultimately all farmers should integrate
conservation tillage, and no-till if feasible, on their farms.
Future no-till farming will need to employ more diverse pest and weed
management strategies, including biological, physical and chemical
measures to lessen the threat of pesticide resistance. Practices from
successful organic farming systems may be instructive in that regard.
One such technique, crop rotation-in which farmers grow a series of
different crops in the same space in sequential seasons-is already
helping no-till's war on pests and weeds by helping to break up the
weed, pest and disease cycles that arise when one species is
To that end, the capacity to grow a diverse selection of economically
viable crops would advance no-till farming and make it more appealing to
farmers. But the current emphasis on corn to produce ethanol in the
Midwestern Corn Belt, for instance, is promoting monoculture-in which a
single crop, such as corn, is grown over a wide area and replanted every
year-and will likely make no-till farming more difficult in this region.
Experts continue to debate the merits of growing fuel on farmland, but
if we decide to proceed with bio-fuel crops, we will need to consider
using no-till with crop rotation to produce them sustainability.
Development of alternative crops for bio-energy production on marginal
lands, including perennials such as switchgrass, could complement and
promote no-till farming, as would perennial grain food crops currently
under development [see "future Farming: A Return to Roots?" by Jerry 1).
Glover, Cindy M. Cox and John P. Reganold; Scientific American, August
Today, three decades after first attempting no-till on his Palouse farm,
John Aeschliman uses the system on 100 percent of his land. His adoption
of no-till has followed a gradual, cautious path that has helped
minimize his risk of reduced yields and net returns. Consequently, he is
one of many farmers, large and small, who is reaping the rewards of
no-till farming and helping agriculture evolve toward sustainability.
Hmmmm......thanks for the reference, Fran. Just when one thinks he
will retire for a bit, some bloody bastard comes along and loads his
plate with another serving......I'll never catch up with all my reading
I trust your travels were rewarding?
:-)) Us bloody bastards love to give other bloody bastards homework.
Fabulous! Cambodia was rather distressing though. I came back energised
and grateful for being born in a rich western country. I've been hauling
major quantities of horse poop for the garden and making major inroads
against winter weeds of which there are many. I should have paid more
attention to certain parts of the garden over summer and done some major
mulching and maintenance - I'm paying for my sloth now (but enjoying it).
(One tip - never, ever fly Vietnam Airlines - walk, swim or use a donkey in
preference - I wouldn't recommend that airline to people I hate).
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