The Rise of Organic No-Till

By: Woody Woodruff

Do you ever get the feeling that we are living in an area where things are changing so fast, and it almost seems to be motivated by a sink or swim mentality? Any way you look at it, it is long overdue.  Just a decade or two past, a handful of pioneer farmers saw the relationship between health and farming and the need to follow organic principles. These organic farming principles were formed with the idea that healthy agriculture should sustain and enhance the health of soil, plant, animal and human as one and indivisible. Organic farming was formed around agriculture that relies on sustainable techniques that enhance the natural fertility of a farm, using crop rotation, companion planting, biological pest control, and naturally-sourced fertilizers such as compost, manure, and green manure.

An organic no-till farm in Spring.

Organic farming has come a long way in just the last few years, with the number of organic farmers and organic acres increasing steadily. The majority of these new organic farmers started off by farming with no-till and cover crops. No-till farming is a way of growing crops or pasture from year to year without disturbing the soil through tillage. No-till is an agricultural technique which increases the amount of water that infiltrates into the soil and increases organic matter retention and cycling of nutrients in the soil. Traditionally, tillage has been a key component in managing planting, pest and weed control, and fertilizers/manures in all agriculture. Because organic farmers don’t rely on herbicides and pesticides to control pests and weeds, they have been slower to adopt no-till practices than conventional farmers.

Today though, we are seeing a new breed of pioneer in agriculture emerging: “Organic No-till Farmers and Ranchers.” And the timing for pioneering this positive merger is compounded with our growing need for massive carbon sequestration back into the soil. The science is showing this type of farming will be safer and more efficient at storing carbon from the atmosphere which will regenerate healthy air, healthy waters, healthy soils, and lead to a sustainable food production system.

The conversations in farmer led groups like the Idea Farm Network, which is being managed by a pioneer farmer in his own way, Will Glazik, is bringing the “organic no till” idea to a larger audience of both organic and no-till farmers. Growing a web based farmer group, like the Idea Farm Network has helped promote greater shared experiences and understandings to help merge the success of these two health oriented farming groups.

Will Glazik, center, organizes the IDEA Farm Network to help farmers share and learn from their experiences and experiments.

The Idea Farm Network group has currently been discussing different experiences in how expanded crop rotation and diversity effect no-till planting in different types of crops. This is exciting stuff to a pioneer farmer.  These opportunities to grow and learn in new and exciting ways are products of collaborations between both concerned farmers and motivated consumers, coming together to form new groups like “Regenerate Illinois” of which Illinois Stewardship Alliance has been a part of. These collaborations are a key catalyst in growing an Organic No-till movement as well as any movement to a healthier sustaining life system.

Where is all this new growth and coming together in promoting a more natural and healthy system of living leading us towards? What will agriculture look like in 20 more years? I have no Idea.  My hope is that we as a critical mass of humans wake up and learn to live in a more harmonious way with nature. I have observed that as the human species, our ability to change the face of the earth has increased at a faster rate than our ability to foresee the consequence of this change.  We need to respect the laws of nature more than we respect the laws of business. If human activity is making changes to the environment which causes extinction or depletion of its resource diversity, then it will no doubt have a negative effect on all humans. The ability of natural systems to recover from small changes can minimize and sometimes reverses the impacts that irresponsible human actions can cause.  However, know and observe in our current climate extremes, that human actions can overwhelm the recuperative capacity of natural systems. It is time to become one as a species with the environment that sustains us. Communicate well, and be part of a positive, nurturing life that benefits your community.