Conservation tillage techniques in modern agriculture helping reduce emissions
Conserving Energy with Conservation Tillage
ENERGY AND AGRICULTURE
Looking into modern farm practices offers a great opportunity to explore the relationships between the natural resources required to grow our food, including energy, water, and soil.
On today’s farms, soil health is very important for farmers. A prime example is the growing trend of farmers adopting no-till (which means no plowing of the soil) and reduced-till (reduced plowing), which results in a reduction in energy use.
Two Types of Energy Savings
When farmers adopt no-till or reduced-till practices, they leave the previous year’s crop residue on top of the soil, instead of plowing it under. In traditional tillage systems, farmers plow the soil to control weeds and prepare the soil bed for planting. With improved equipment technology and the wide variety weed-control tools available today, plowing has become less necessary. Where no-till or reduced till is a viable option, it helps farmers reduce soil erosion, surface disruption and ultimately reduce energy use in two different ways:
Less to No Tillage Required
The first way farmers conserve energy with conservation tillage is by reducing the number of times their tractors cross the field. Before no-till and reduced-till became more common, farmers would plow fields several times to break up the soil and prepare it for planting. With no-till, farmers cross their fields with the planter just one time (for planting) leading to a substantial reduction in trips over the field and fuel used.
Improved Water Infiltration
Conservation tillage also reduces erosion and improves the soil’s ability to absorb water and hold it. As a result, less topsoil is lost. On irrigated cropland, less energy is required for watering because plant residue can help to hold moisture in the soil for crops to use.
Carbon Sequestration In Soil
During tillage, the breaking up of the soil causes carbon to be released into the atmosphere, where it can negatively affect the climate. Leaving soil undisturbed reduces the release of carbon and its impact. When undisturbed and left in the soil, carbon forms the building blocks for the nutrients the crops will need during the next growing season. The less disturbance of the soil, the better it is for soil health.
Resource Efficiency: The Next Frontier In Farming
The innovations being developed by modern agriculture are informed by the desire to help farmers further reduce the impact of farming on the environment. Each of the natural resources mentioned earlier—energy, soil, and water—are limited and needed by everyone. The most sustainable solutions, for today’s farmers and the farmers of tomorrow, are going to be the ones that help farmers continue to use less.