No-Till In Vogue With Today’s Farmers

MILAN, Tenn. — Russian farmers are anxious to learn more about no-till farming applications being refined at the University of Tennessee Milan Experiment Station, Vice President Al Gore said Thursday.

“They want to know about the environmental benefits, the economic benefits and the time benefits of no-till farming,” Gore said.

“Thanks to no-till farming, I know that many of you here are using less and less crop-protection products and…doing it in a very scientific way,” Gore said in a speech at UT’s 16th annual No-Till field day here.

As recently as 15 years ago, UT researchers and agents were emphasizing to farmers that they could reduce soil erosion by switching to no-till farming.

Today, most farmers are sold on no-till, mainly for a different reason, and when they arrived at the Milan field day Thursday they were asking for new ways to apply no-till technology.

John Bradley, superintendent of UT’s Milan Experiment Station, said no-till fits hand-in-glove with the federal government’s new farm program, which eliminates most price-supports and allows farmers to plant more acreage.

“It allows for rotation. If you received government payments to farm just one crop, now you can rotate crops,” Bradley said.

“The real reason farmers are going to no-till is purely economic — land, labor and capital investment. And with no-till, they’ll be risking less. So if there’s a disaster like the drought in Texas, they’ll have less invested in a crop to lose.”

Last year’s No-Till field day attracted more than 11,000 farmers and agribusiness representatives from 78 Tennessee counties, 37 states and 13 foreign countries.

The field day demonstrations include no-till weed control of soybeans, corn and cotton; no-till narrow-row cotton production; and no-till pest management, fertilizer use, planting and equipment demonstrations.

In no-till farming, the soil is disturbed as little as possible. Stubble from the previous crop is left in the field, and new crops are planted without plowing.

Bradley said no-till allows farmers to harvest one crop and immediately plant another in the stubble. In conventional farming, plows and discs are used to turn under the previous crop.

“It’s a relatively simple way to have two crops per year on the same land,” said Richard Groce, UT Agricultural Extension Agent in Maury County.

In overall percentage of cropland, Tennessee has 42 percent in no-till, behind only Kentucky at 47 percent and Maryland at 43 percent, Bradley said.

“At one time, Tennessee led the nation in tons of soil lost per acre through erosion. We were losing 14.1 tons per acre per year,” Bradley said.

In 1992, the Soil Conservation Service took a national natural resources inventory, “and we had reduced soil erosion to 7 tons per acre per year,” Bradley said.

Since then, he said, the number of acres in no-till has increased from a third to a half. “And we feel we have cut our soil loss in half again, maybe down to 3.5 tons per acre per year.”

In cotton alone, he said, Tennessee ranks No. 1 in the nation with 200,000 acres in no-till.

Bradley, known as Mr. No-Till, was recognized in 1995 by Progressive Farmer magazine as the Man-of-the-Year in Service to Agriculture.

Much of UT’s no-till research is done at the Milan station, but Bradley is quick to say the Milan field day does more than demonstrate no-till: “We also strive to offer information on beef cattle, economics and new government regulations.”

The West Tennessee agricultural museum, renamed the Tom C. McCutcheon Agricultural Museum, was dedicated Thursday. McCutcheon was a superintendent of the Milan station.

Contact: John Bradley (901-686-7362)

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