You might have heard of permaculture or no-dig gardening somewhere if you’re into sustainability and organic farming. Permaculture often emphasizes a no-till approach to farming. Conventional, industrial agriculture, which we are all familiar with for the past half-century, has relied heavily on the practice of tillage to either eliminate weeds or turn a crop into the ground to make way for the next crop. However, tllage has some major drawbacks and disadvantages, which is partly why we have omitted tillage from our farming practices.
One reason we practice no till agriculture is the carbon sequestration. We are trying to perform agriculture that is beneficial to the earth’s climate. When a tractor or a roto-tiller mixes all of the soil up in a tillage pass, the soil becomes flooded with oxygen. All of that oxygen boosts microbial activity, at least for the short term. Those boosted microbes need a food source to consume, so they turn to your soil organic matter (SOM). As they digest the SOM, the stable carbon in the soil turns to carbon dioxide, or CO2. We know most certainly that the earth’s climate is warming due to rising CO2 and other greenhouse gases, so one of the best ways agriculture can help stave off climate change is by protecting the SOM and keeping our carbon in the soil. No till agriculture achieves this by keeping the carbon sequestered or stored in the soil.
Another reason why we practice no till agriculture is to preserve soil structure. Most people believe that soil should be soft and fluffy so that plants can grow easily throughout it. While it is true that you don’t want compacted, hard soil, you also don’t want soil that is so soft and fluffy that has no structure. Microbes in the soil secrete glues and other natural chemicals that actually bind soil particles together into larger ones called aggregates. You might know an aggregate by remembering when you were a kid and you played in the soil and always wanted to break up the big dirt clumps! Those dirt clumps are actually signs of good soil structure. The microbes, fungus, and bacteria want to glue the soil together so that water can stick around longer and nutrients will not wash easily away. Folks, nature knows what it wants and how to get what it wants. If we were to till our soil, then we would pulverize our soil aggregates into tiny particles. Over time, those tiny particles would not allow water and nutrients to pass through, nor the roots of our plants. We would then get a hardpan, literally a layer of soil so rock hard that nothing would get through. Thankfully, we have never dealt with hardpans before but we cannot imagine how difficult they would be to fix without repetetitive tillage. By practicing no till, we can preserve our soil structure, hold on to our precious water, and keep nutrients sticking around longer as well.
This last point about no till agriculture might be more anecdotal, but we believe no till food tastes better. Whether it is the intact rhizosphere (where the roots grow) or plants being able to express their full genetic potential, something about food grown in no till soil just flat out tastes more complex and flavorful. Time and time again, we are blown away by food that is grown sustainably and what the end results in taste can be.
So these are just a few reasons why we do no till agriculture. There are many more points to this practice and we are always thrilled to talk about it with our followers. No till agriculture is gaining steam and it is definitely a step going beyond organic. We are excited to see the new innovations in no till agriculture and we are grateful to be a part of the movement going forward.