Nathan Brown of Highland County

What’s our message to the Feds?

By Randall Reeder, Ohio State University Extension (retired)

Our leading no-till farmers can easily explain to other farmers the advantages of continuous no-till, cover crops, and crop rotation. And those other farmers will understand the points, even if they disagree. 

But when the same points are made to the typical government employees or elected officials in Washington, you’ll likely get a blank stare and a question, “What’s no-till?”

At our Ohio No-till Conference on Dec. 8, Bill Richards and Fred Yoder will lead a discussion to arrive at a clear, succinct message. Both have no-tilled for many years. They have years of experience “communicating” with Washington folks, including the 98% who know nothing about no-till farming. 

Interestingly, I’ve been asked by Lessiter Media (publisher of No-till Farmer and organizer of the National No-till Conference) to head up a group to compile a Top 15 list of research articles on no-till. Did you know that “no-till” is known by other names, including “zero-till” and “direct seeding?” “Strip-till” is also considered no-till. And that’s just in the U.S. Around the world the preferred term is “Conservation Agriculture” which is defined as including continuous no-tillage, cover crops and crop rotation. (We’ll likely create two Top 15 lists. One for research here, the other for the rest of the world.)

Those different names are a challenge in defining a clear message (elevator speech?) about the tremendous benefits of “no-till” for our country and our world. The public has moved on from erosion as a top issue. Global warming and climate change seem to be the “hot” topic today. The increasing amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere gets the blame for climate change.  

Our no-till systems (Conservation Agriculture) are a great option for taking carbon dioxide from the air and storing it in soil as organic matter. The key to keeping that carbon in the soil is minimizing soil disturbance. A single disk opener placing a seed 2 inches deep disturbs the least soil. Moldboard plowing or subsoiling results in the most disturbance and gives a net loss of carbon. 

Expanding the adoption of this system, whatever we call it, offers multiple advantages. The small percentage of farmland currently using this system needs to expand rapidly. A clear message to Congress and the bureaucrats in Washington would be a good start.   

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