What is no-till agriculture, and why is it important?
No-till agriculture is farming that doesn’t disturb the surface of the soil. In traditional farming, plows are used to rip the soil open and turn it over, creating a trench for planting seed. The trouble with this approach is that the exposed soil bakes in the sun and dries out, and the healthy topsoil is easily blown away.
Topsoil is the upper layer of soil where organic matter (leaves, fungus, bacteria, earthworms, etc) lives and creates more soil. As plants and trees go dormant each year and die back, or deposit leaves onto the ground, the living system within the topsoil breaks down the organic matter, consuming the plants’ carbon and breaking it down into smaller forms that are banked within the soil. Tilling rips up this living layer of soil and kills it, and farming has been performed this way for millennia.
No-till farming eliminates the plow.
No-till farming leaves the topsoil intact so that the living system below ground can feed crops naturally. After the growing season, cover crops–like alfalfa–are crushed and left to decompose into the soil, further feeding microbial life underground.
No-till agriculture is a viable way to preserve our soil legacy for further generations. For an example of no-till agriculture in action, visit No-Till on the Plains.