You’ve heard of No-Shave November. Now get ready for No-Till November! The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) is putting out a challenge for farmers to take a break from tilling, incorporate cover crops, and improve soil health this November.
The Downsides of Tilling
Although tilling is a highly effective method of weeding, doing so excessively can have detrimental effects on soil quality and the long-term productivity of land. Tilling breaks up the aggregated structure of soils, reducing its water and gas exchange capabilities. Massive quantities of stored carbon may be released when soil is disturbed. Once these reserves are consumed, beneficial microbial communities can be starved and depleted. Pore space can be lost due to compaction, resulting in increased rates of surface runoff. Soil particles that are left exposed without roots to hold them in place, or without vegetation to intercept rainfall, are more susceptible to wind and water erosion. The loss of topsoil due to erosion reduces land fertility, and may contaminate nearby water bodies. Unhealthy soils produce lower yields, and the additional labor and inputs required to restore degraded land and water bodies can be costly to landowners.
Benefits of Tilling and Cover Cropping
A combination of no-tilling and cover cropping can give soil the time and resources required to naturally replenish itself. Doing so will lead to improved aggregate structure, accumulation of organic matter, improved nutrient and water holding capacity, beneficial microbial activity, and increased carbon sequestration. When done properly, farm owners can save time and money, and even benefit the environment.
Inter-aggregate spaces serve as pathways for water to infiltrate through the soil profile. Maintaining these pathways increases accessibility of water to plant roots, and decreases surface pooling and runoff. Due to its remarkably high specific surface area, organic matter is incredibly effective at increasing water and nutrient holding capacity. By slowing the rate at which water and nutrients are drained or leached beyond the root zone, irrigation and fertilizer use efficiency are improved. Carbons within organic matter act as a food source for nutrient cycling and nitrogen-fixing microorganisms. Having healthy microbial communities can reduce the need for costly and environmentally harmful fertilizer inputs.
Are you ready to take on the challenge? Talk to a consultant at Full Spectrum to learn more about how you can take part in No-Till November.