Farming's Future: No More Plows?

'No-till' agriculture is eco-friendly and rising in popularity
By Dustin Lushing,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 21, 2012 2:15 PM CDT
No-till farming makes plows obsolete.   (Shutterstock)

(Newser) – A transformation in farming may be under way, one that leaves plows in the dust. It's called "no-till" farming, and the AFP (via Raw Story) catches up with the growing trend in Indiana. The idea is that a plow—or on a smaller scale, a garden shovel—disrupts the natural structure of soil. Leaving the earth intact results in healthier soil in the long run, thus reducing the need for fertilizers. About 35% of US crops, including half of all soybeans, are now grown with the practice, says the Agriculture Department.

No-till farming, also called "conservation farming," originated about 20 years ago. In addition to the lack of plowing, the system also relies on the use of temporary cover crops and crop rotation. The cover crops (such as ryegrass and alfalfa) shield the soil from erosion and deliver nitrogen into the soil, providing a natural fertilizer instead of the fast-dissolving synthetic variety. Crop yields seem to be about the same. The practice does require special seed-planting equipment for farms, and the federal government is providing subsidies to cover the extra cost.

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