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posted by janrinok on Thursday March 12 2015, @09:45PM   Printer-friendly
from the otherwise-known-as-how-we-used-to-do-it dept.

Erica Goode writes in the NYT that no-till soil-conservation farming, a movement that promotes leaving fields untilled, “green manures” and other soil-enhancing methods, is gaining converts as propnents say the technology mimics the biology of virgin land, to revive degenerated earth, minimize erosion, encourage plant growth and increase farmers’ profits, “It’s a massive paradigm shift,” says Ray Archuleta, an agronomist at the Natural Resources Conservation Service, part of the federal Agriculture Department, which endorses the soil-conservation approach. Neatly tilled fields have long been a hallmark of American agriculture and its farmers, by and large traditionalists who often distrust practices that diverge from time-honored methods. Tilling also helps mix in fertilizers and manure and loosens the top layer of the soil. But repeated plowing exacts a price. It degrades soil, killing off its biology, including beneficial fungi and earthworms, and leaving it, as Archuleta puts it, “naked, thirsty, hungry and running a fever.” Soil health proponents say that by leaving fields unplowed and using cover crops, which act as sinks for nitrogen and other nutrients, growers can increase the amount of organic matter in their soil, making it better able to absorb and retain water.

One recent study led by the Environmental Defense Fund suggested that the widespread use of cover crops and other soil-health practices could reduce nitrogen pollution in the Upper Mississippi and Ohio River basins by 30 percent, helping to shrink the giant “dead zone” of oxygen-depleted water in the Gulf of Mexico. But the movement also has critics, who argue that no-tillage and other methods are impractical and too expensive for many growers. A farmer who wants to shift to no-tillage, for example, must purchase new equipment, like a no-till seeder. Even farmers who enthusiastically adopt no-till and other soil-conservation methods rarely do so for environmental reasons; their motivation is more pragmatic. “My goal is to improve my soil so I can grow a better crop so I can make more money,” says Terry McAlister, who farms 6,000 acres of drought-stricken cropland in North Texas. “If I can help the environment in the process, fine, but that’s not my goal.”

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  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by pyg on Thursday March 12 2015, @10:05PM

    by pyg (4381) on Thursday March 12 2015, @10:05PM (#156953)

    Yes, I did say almost. Interesting as I was involved in a living mulch research project circa 2004 that was not totally successful but failed in a way I see this failing for most modern farmers. It takes too much smarts. If we would have pushed it for another 10 years I think we could have figured out a system. Permaculture is something I used to claim to be a disciple of and I love the theory, but it takes so much knowledge and such dedication and persistence that here in 'murica we probably won't have a Fukoka class system for another 50 years or so although there are some folks pushing the edge.

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  • (Score: 2) by art guerrilla on Thursday March 12 2015, @10:59PM

    by art guerrilla (3082) on Thursday March 12 2015, @10:59PM (#156993)

    @ pyg
    thank you for that perspective...

    once i get a trailer lined up, going to start getting a lot more of various neighbors composted/not horse output and spread around newly cleared garden area... very sandy soil, needs more poop...
    damn deer, rabbits and squirrels are the main enemy, plants hardly have a chance to be damaged by bugs, the rabbits eat them all as greens...
    wife said she just read that selenium smell is distasteful to deer and they avoid it, true/false/maybe ? ? ?
    kill da wabbit ! ! !

    • (Score: 2, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 12 2015, @11:16PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 12 2015, @11:16PM (#157000)

      You need to live in harmony with the rabbits. Plant some carrots for them around the food that you want for yourself. They will eat those carrots, and leave your food alone.

      • (Score: 5, Funny) by sigma on Friday March 13 2015, @02:51AM

        by sigma (1225) on Friday March 13 2015, @02:51AM (#157109)

        Then plant ghost chilies around the carrots, if only for the entertainment value.

      • (Score: 3, Informative) by art guerrilla on Friday March 13 2015, @02:33PM

        by art guerrilla (3082) on Friday March 13 2015, @02:33PM (#157281)

        ehhhh, what's up doc ? ? ?

        i *think* your comment was a bugs bunny joke, because if you believe the wascally wabbits will eat the carrots and leave everything else alone, you are seriously misguided by too many cartoons... (next, you'll be advising i simply drop an Acme anvil on them...)

        besides, the rabbits (bob-tailed, long-eared rats, really) are NOT going to wait 90 days for carrots they can't pluck out of the ground, they are going to eat ALL the greens that pop up, INCLUDING the carrot tops: there will be NO carrots...

        (nor anything: i've replanted a peanut patch 3 times, and each time they waited 5-7 days for them to sprout an inch or two, then mowed them down to the ground over night...)

        the 'final solution', is to learn how to make rabbit stew...
        except they breed like, well, like rabbits...

  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by frojack on Thursday March 12 2015, @11:09PM

    by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Thursday March 12 2015, @11:09PM (#156999) Journal

    Too much smarts?

    What century are you living in? Most large farmers are college educated, technology savvy, have their fields GIS-mapped, and soil-analysis done regularly. Its not 1935 any more.

    No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
    • (Score: 2) by Phoenix666 on Friday March 13 2015, @12:11AM

      by Phoenix666 (552) on Friday March 13 2015, @12:11AM (#157023) Journal

      Yes, I will second that. I never saw so many electronics and sensors in the most ostentatious tech-nerd castle as I did the first time I stepped inside a farmhouse in the northern Rockies. It looked like a broken-down, ramshackle hut from the outside, but on the inside it looked like a listening post in signals intelligence.

      I never pooh-poohed farmers again after that.

      Washington DC delenda est.
    • (Score: 2) by DeathMonkey on Friday March 13 2015, @12:25AM

      by DeathMonkey (1380) on Friday March 13 2015, @12:25AM (#157039) Journal

      Too much smarts?
      I'm just a hobbyist gardener but I find it as scientifically challenging as any of my other projects...

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 13 2015, @02:05AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 13 2015, @02:05AM (#157098)

      Being college educated means nothing other than having a piece of paper.

      • (Score: 2) by Daiv on Friday March 13 2015, @02:30PM

        by Daiv (3940) on Friday March 13 2015, @02:30PM (#157279)

        Never underestimate how many people find getting that "piece of paper" the biggest challenge they've ever faced.