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No-till Agriculture

One of the first major criticisms of intensive plowing was Edward H. Faulkner's Plowman's Folly published in 1943. Researchers gave the book little attention. Faulkner recognized the plow as a major cause of soil erosion, but did not have a workable alternative.

During the 1950's alternative primary tillage tools became common, including the chisel plow, disk plow, and stubble mulcher. At the same time, researchers and a few farmers were beginning to demonstrate the successful production of crops using chemicals in seedbed preparation and almost no tillage.

In the 1970's no-till acreage expanded rapidly in response to several circumstances. Economically, it was becoming harder to afford the time and equipment required to do primary tillage. The farm labor pool was shrinking, farm prices were dropping, and land and energy prices were rising. No-till allowed farms to farm steeper, more marginal lands, and required far less fuel, machinery, and time. At the same time, pressure to conserve soil and water was increasing, and no-till was cheaper to implement than other conservation practices, such as terracing. Finally, the technologies necessary for successful no-tilling were now widely available, including improved herbicides and better planters and drills.

By 1997, 110 million acres, or about 37 percent of all cropland, was being managed using some kind of minimum tillage system. The result of these fundamental changes in tillage practices has been a drop in soil erosion of 42 percent from 1982 to 1997, and an increase in soil organic matter levels. Since then, no-till has hit a plateau. National no-till rates have not risen since 1997, though rates have increased for some crops and in some regions.

For detailed conservation tillage data, go to the Conservation Tillage Information Center.

For more information on the history of no-till farming, see

No-Tillage Farming. 1982. H.M. Young, Jr. No-Till Farmer, Inc. Brookfield, WI.
This is the source of information for the paragraphs above.

Edward H. Faulkner. 1943. Plowman's Folly. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press.

Edward H. Faulkner. A Second Look. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press.

Bromfield, Louis. 1946. The Farm. New York London, Harper & brothers.

Bromfield, Louis. 1948. Malabar Farm. New York, Harper.

Bromfield, Louis. 1988. Louis Bromfield at Malabar : writings on farming and country life. Edited by Charles E. Little. Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press.