Opinion: No-till farming not seen as solution
The conventional agricultural paradigm, introduced after World War II, replaced ages-old, costly farm protocols for weed control, soil fertility and labor, with cheap toxic chemicals. The new protocol achieves its “efficiencies” by externalizing those toxins into the environment, not by accident, but by design.
No-till was big agriculture’s response in the 1980s to gathering concerns that conventional farming was causing serious soil erosion. No-till slowed erosion but it resulted in lowered yields due to lack of nitrogen and soil organic matter (“Nutrient Management in No-Till and Minimum Till Systems,” Dinkins, Jones, McVay and Olson-Rutz, Montana State University Extension, 2014). To make up for lost productivity, no-till farmers were instructed to increase the application of NPK fertilizer, which is the vector for the toxins that cause water pollution in the lake.
Phosphorus, an essential element for plant growth, can be purchased in soluble form, which leaches quickly and therefore pollutes the lake, or in rock form, which leaches slowly and does not. Conventional farmers virtually all use the soluble form.
In “No-Till: Does It Improve Water Quality?” (Nathan O. Nelson, Kansas State University), the author concludes that no-till decreases soil erosion but increases dissolved P loss. The suggestion in the article that farmers who use no-till are helping to address water pollution is false and very unhelpful.
James H. Maroney Jr.