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(Article Summarized by Meridian Institute) In this article, Twilight Greenaway, writing in Civil Eats as part of its year-long reporting series on rural America, “The Rural Environment and Agriculture Project (REAP),” covers the no-till farming movement. Erosion, says Greenaway, accounts for the loss of about 1.7 billion tons of farmland around the world every year. As Allan Savory, a grazing guru who spoke at a recent No-till on the Plains conference, said, “A train load of soil 116 miles long leaves the country every day.” As the world begins to recognize the need to focus on soil health, no-till farmers could play a key role. Writes Greenaway: “As they reshape their operations with a focus on things like earthworms and water filtration, and practice a suite of other approaches that fit loosely under the umbrella of ‘regenerative agriculture,’ these farmers are stepping out of the ag mainstream.” It has become something of a subculture, adds Greenaway, and many of these farmers see no-till as the beginning of a whole range of other practices, such as growing cover crops, managed grazing and diversification of crops. “No-till without cover crops and crop diversity is still an incomplete system,” says Jimmy Emmons, who practices no-till on his 2,000-acre Oklahoma farm. These practices, proponents say, could eventually help farmers wean themselves off some, if not all, of the herbicides, pesticides and synthetic fertilizers they currently use. “You can’t quit [synthetic fertilizer and herbicides] cold-turkey,” said Adam Chappell, a fourth-generation farmer from Arkansas who practices no-till and plants cover crops. But, he adds, “I don’t need seed treatments for my cotton anymore. I’ve taken the insecticide off my soybeans. I’m working toward getting rid of fungicide... I’m hoping that eventually my soil will be healthy enough that I can get rid of all of it all together.” Emmons says he has cut his fuel costs by two-thirds and fertilizer costs in half. But it’s a gradual process, he adds, saying, “the first year is going to be crappy. The cover crops aren’t going to work as well as you want and you’ll want to give up. But if you can make it three to four years, you’ll start seeing fungal dominance, more diversity of living organisms in the soil, and more biomass in the system.” And, there may be other benefits to this approach to farming - healthier soil may lead to more nutrient-dense food. Several groups are, in fact, working to develop potential certification schemes for regenerative agriculture, meaning a label could be likely in the near future.

Posted February 13th, 2018