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Where Does My Food Come From Series: Benefit of a No-Till System

By: Steve Frailey Wednesday November 4, 2020 comments Tags: organic farming, sustainable farming

Many industrial agricultural practices are lethal to soil fertility. These include: deforestation, use of synthetic fertilizers, and soil tilling.

What is Tilling?

Conventional tilling, the soil is turned to a depth between 8-12 inches with a plow (commonly with a moldboard). The soil is usually tilled at least twice more before planting takes place.

Dangers of Tilling
Undisturbed soil is held together by an intricate structure of soil particles, roots, and organisms. Tilling disturbs the soil, and removes any plant matter, leaving it bare enabling absorption of vital nutrients. It’s like turning your house upside down- the basement is in the attic and the attic is now in the basement. Soil that is deficient in nutrients, is more likely to be eroded by wind and water (Dust Bowl in the 1930’s).

Did you know? The Earth loses roughly 23 billion tons of fertile soil every year. Unless farmers convert to sustainable farming practices that restore and rebuild the soil, all fertile soil will be permanently lost within 150 years.

Tilling soil at the depth of 8-12 inches can release a significant amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (global warming). Studies have shown that organic no-till farming practices can help increase soil organic carbon retention by up to 9 percent after two years and 21 percent after six years.

What is No-Till Farming?

No-till farming (also called zero tillage or direct drilling) is an agricultural technique that increases the amount of water that infiltrates into the soil, increasing the soil's retention of organic matter and its cycling of nutrients. The soil is left undisturbed except to place seeds/plants in a position to germinate.

Did you know? The idea of modern no-till farming started in the 1940s with Edward H. Faulkner.

No-Till Farming Benefits

Healthier Soil. When soil is left undisturbed, soil organisms can establish their communities and feed off of the soil’s organic matter. As organic soil matter improves, so does the soil’s internal structure. This in turn increases the soil’s natural capacity to grow more nutrient-dense crops.

Reduced Soil Erosion. No-till farming reduces the chance of soil erosion by keeping the root systems of the prior crops in the ground. This aids in holding the soil together by retaining water, nutrients, and makes soil resistant to wind and water erosion.

Carbon Sequestration. By not tilling the soil, we actually keep a lot of carbon locked into the soil. If it is in the soil, then it isn’t in the atmosphere. Of course, adopting no-till farming reduces fuel operated equipment reducing CO2 emissions further.

Reduced Costs. Every single time farmers have to drive across a field, it costs us time, money, and labor. According to a report published in Scientific America, switching to no till farming decreased the fuel expense by 50-80% and the labor by 30-50%..... WOW!

Making the Switch to No-till Farming

According to the Department of Agriculture, no-till farming is now growing at a steady 1.5% percent in the United States. In 2009, about 35.5 percent of the country's cropland had at least some no-till farming operations.

Getting Started
To switch to no-till, the first step is a soil analysis. This will make you aware of the type of soil you have. Then, incorporate as much organic material into the soil as possible. Compost tea, mulching, composting, and vermiculture are great ways to do this. If you are farming organically, you cannot use chemical fertilizers.

Did you know? Soil erosion in the United States dropped nearly 40 percent between 1982 and 1997 when adopting a no-till system.

Hawaiian Organic Noni’s Take on No-Till Farming

Organic mulching and composting is probably the easiest way to enrich soil fertility. We do this around all our noni trees, and get great results in conjunction with not tilling the soil on our farm. It’s harder work sometimes, but fertile soil isn’t that difficult to work with, even without tilling. The results of happy noni trees and wildlife that make their home on the farm (bees, albatross, monk seal, white-sumped shama, nene geese and millions of very happy earthworms!) links to each shows living the way nature intended is always best!



Steve Frailey

About the Author: Steve Frailey

My wife and I (Steve Frailey) moved to Kauai, Hawaii in 1982 from our organic farm in California. There were no roads, electricity, water or buildings but lots of Noni trees (Morinda Citrifolia) in our valley. We also developed a deep relationship with Noni that was growing all through our valley.  Today we run our Hawaiian Organic Noni farm, and share the gift of health with people throughout the world.