It takes skill to no-till, but persevering and wider adoption could bring many benefits, says an article on ‘No-Till: the Quiet Revolution’ in a recent edition of Scientific American.
No-till is a way of growing crops without plowing. The authors, soil and sustainable farming experts David Huggins, USDA, and Prof. John Reganold (Washington State University) cite the introduction of paraquat as a milestone in agriculture which made no-till possible.
As a broad spectrum, non-selective herbicide, paraquat controls weeds without the need to bury them by ploughing. The problem with ploughing is that it causes soil erosion. Thanks to John Deere’s adaptation of the mouldboard plow in 1837 the North American prairies could then be cultivated. However, as cropping continued to expand and intensify, problems became all too obvious. Take the Palouse region in Washington State. By the 1970s, all topsoil had been totally eroded from 10% of the cropland and up to 75% had been lost from another 60% of fields.