No till farming article

Alan, I would repeat the importance of a system of farming that doesn’t feed off of and foster an agriculturally illiterate society. As I said before, the agricultural illiteracy of our society (i.e. the demand side of the economic equation) is surely integral to our agricultural problems. I think any solution to agricultural problems like erosion that simply accepts and builds upon widespread agricultural illiteracy is bound for major failures.

As you said yourself, Alan, our agricultural system is not the one you’d design. Therefore, as I see it, you have two choices: (1) accept your helpless place in the system anyway, support it despite all its flaws and evils, and depend fully on it: “But it is the system that has provided me with the life style I find myself enjoying and accustomed to.” (2) do what you can to support alternative systems based on your understandings of what’s good and what’s good to avoid (alternatives which invariably require a major reduction in scale.) In other words, don’t just go along with whatever “keep[s] agribusiness pleased with our politicians” but go to extra trouble and/or expense to build a better system at a level where it can be defined by values other than those of agribusiness and politics.

If GMO’s sometimes help farmers to replace mechanical cultivation with herbicidal control of weeds (which is necessarily true if the above isn’t true), then GMO’s make (and have made) no-till more feasible, which is to say they’re part of the cause. It also means that no-till is less practical for non-GMO farming.

And, in any case, consumers really have no options for supporting and buying no-till without supporting and buying GMO’s, so marginal exceptions and hypothetical alternatives to reality don’t matter to most of us that aren’t growing the crops with GMO options. And for those commodity crop farmers that are growing those crops, those things don’t really matter either in the face of hard economic realities (just like your feelings on the crop insurance program wind up being insignificant.)

Once again, no. The misunderstanding is that you keep assuming ANY use of herbicides during the growing process to control weeds automatically means it’s no-till farming. That is NOT the definition of no-till.

Whether or not a farm is no-till or till is defined BEFORE the crop is even planted. If you see a farmer plowing his field in the fall, then working the ground a couple times in the spring, he is a TILLAGE farmer, even if he elects to use herbicides after the crop has emerged. He has still done the all the damage to the soil by removing the previous season’s crop revenue and plowing it under. The carbon has still been released in the air. The soil has been washed away because of spring rains. If he elects to use post emergent herbicides (after the crop has emerged) no one is going to say, “Wow, great job doing no-till, your really helping to conserve soil” because he’s not doing no-till. He is simply a tillage farmer who has elected to keep his cultivator parked in the barn in favor of controlling post-emergent weeds with herbicide because it’s cheaper.

The farmer who decides to not to plow and expose naked soil to spring rains, but instead invests in an expensive no-till drill, and no-till planter is no-till.

Since this decision happens, and is defined before the crop is planted, or in some cases, even before the type of crop is decided upon, the decision has nothing to do with GMOs. For example a no-till farmer may burn down weeds and plant milo, which is non-GMO.

As I’ve said, for corn and beans, once the crop emerges, pretty much everyone controls weeds at that point with herbicides, for the reasons I mentioned earlier. But just because they are all controlling weeds with herbicides at that point doesn’t make them all no-till farmers.

Edit: I should also add that no-till farmers aren’t locked into using chemical controls for post emergent weed control. In other words, no-till farmers can use a high residue cultivator for post emergent weeds, and no post emergent chemicals. However, as with tillage farmers, no till farmers generally don’t use cultivators for post emergent weed control, for the same reasons previously mentioned (more expense, wider row spacing required, etc.)

CF, I believe all civilizations have created something that could be termed agriculturally illiterate societies in that only the individuals who grow the food know anything much about the process- or care.

I don’t grow food for money but grow trees for sale and a lot of my own food but I don’t profess to know the answer of the best way to grow food to feed a planet with so many human mouths to feed.

I know that organic farms require a lot of the kind of work that native born citizens don’t usually want to do, and even with imported labor they do not compete with conventional agriculture in at least the bottom line cost of the product.

I was at Whole Foods a few weeks ago and the prices were astronomical by my standards and probably anyone else that doesn’t spend over about ten grand a year per member of the household for the ingredients of the meals they eat.

My wife and I don’t eat too much meat and half of what we do eat I trade peaches for (elk), but the price of free range meat around here runs up to triple the cost of conventional meat so I don’t see how any kind of literacy has to do with the decision of average people to stick to buying conventionally grown meat, fruit and vegetables.

Maybe if you explained some kind of complete scenario of how one thing specifically leads to another in a practical way I could pull some meaning from your speculation and philosophy. Specific changes the government or people should make instead of sweeping generalizations that seem to express mood rather than plans might be useful.

Either GMO’s have sometimes helped farmers to replace mechanical cultivation with herbicidal control of weeds or they haven’t. You can’t say no to never and no to sometimes. Either they have or they haven’t.

I think the big problem with everything you say, though, is just how much it misses the big picture of the real world choices that producers actually have and the real world choices that consumers actually have. Whether as a farmer or as a consumer, one can’t practically choose what’s called “no-till” without choosing GMO’s, and choosing non-GMO means not choosing “no-till.” You can point to all sorts of red herrings, but you can’t meaningfully deny that fundamental. If you want to argue that farmers’ and consumers’ real world choices are more the result of market dynamics than agronomic dynamics, I think you’re engaging in too much useless reductionism – useless because these things are inseparable in the real world (and you’re distorting the reductionist agronomic reality even at that, chiefly through the use of extensive red herrings.)


I think I’ve explained everything as well as I can. To accuse me of “red herrings”, “useless reductionism” and “distortion” is some of the same language you used of me at GW. I’m trying my best to fill the bill of “friendly admin staff” which is on the Welcome post of this forum, so I will not respond.

Sincerely hope you have a great day, and a great season!

I don’t till, and only eat GMO’s. Never grew them.

If we’re talking GMO’s (and especially as they relate to “no-till”), so far we’re basically talking about field corn, soybeans (other than edamame), cotton, alfalfa, sugar beets, and rapeseed/canola. I’m sure those crops account for over 99% of GMO crop acreage, but none of those crops (whether GMO or non-GMO) is ever grown by 99% of home gardeners. People that think garden crops when they think GMO’s aren’t realizing where the GMO’s really are (in agriculture nor in their diets). Of course, things change, but that’s the present reality.

I would also note that “not tilling” and “no-till” often have very little to do with each other. You might never till your orchard, but that doesn’t mean you have a “no-till orchard.” That’s just not how the term is used. As I said before, the standard definition of “no-till” includes plowing up permanent pasture and clear-cutting and bulldozing forests to grow row crops for ethanol. But not tilling up that pasture or not bulldozing the forest (but rather leaving the trees) means, by general usage of the term, that you don’t have no-till agriculture or no-till anything. In other words, “no-till agriculture” can potentially involve a lot more soil disturbance and even tillage than some of the alternatives, but “no-till” advocates just frame the questions and define the terms too narrowly to allow for those real world alternatives. Of course, whether they like it or not, that’s undeniably reductionism.

CF, Canola is no GMO, it was bred through conventional methods. Please, if you are going to pontificate with such magnificence DO YOUR RESEARCH.

If you want to actually influence the world with your brilliance, dumb it down so regular folk like me have some specific sense of what you are suggesting… Speaking in abstractions is a nice way to hide the lack any legitimate substance- not that this is what your doing. How could I possibly know?

Earth to CF, use real life examples of what you’d like your disciples to actually do. Or maybe we should just swim in amazement at your abstract musings…

Alan, look it up yourself, but I assure you you’ll find out I didn’t misspeak at all.

As to dumbing it down, abstractions, etc., it seems to me you’re simply prejudiced in these questions. First you tell me to “edit to a number of sentences adequate to my limited attention span.” Then you tell me to “explain some kind of complete scenario.” If you want dumbed down complete scenarios, then you probably just want “no-till” and GMO’s. If you want to confront the complexities of the real world, then the best I have for you is above where I began, “Alan, if we don’t know what our eyesight…” If those four paragraphs need to be edited down further for your limited attention span, then you’re surely not ready to challenge your assumptions, which as you rightly noted are also tied to the lifestyle we find ourselves enjoying and accustomed to (which only adds to the difficulty of challenging your assumptions.)

CF, you are right. Somehow the last time I looked it up I drew the conclusion that it was not a GM product but what I must have read was that the GM modification is not a part of the oil itself. The altered gene is a protein and is removed in the extraction process so GM rapeseed produces identical oil to non GM rapeseed.

It’s funny because I looked it up when someone else said it was a GM product and I was merely curious. I told him I’d looked it up and before I finished my sentence he said that he found out he was wrong- therefore my high level of confidence on the subject.

I did go back and read again what you said and it is not very specific, but here’s some specifics of what I do. I do try to buy free range chicken eggs, preferably ones that are pastured, and I pay a premium price for that luxury. I also buy organic chickens, even though I’m not sure how they are raised, but I figure they are given more room than conventionally produced ones and far less antibiotics. I also try to buy free range pork when I purchase that meat.

But even though I do this I don’t necessarily think conventional production is wrong if it allows people with less discretionary income to feed themselves adequately. I also believe in the potential of genetic engineering although I’m not enamored with Monsanto’s products. I will continue to use GMO rapeseed oil- that’s for sure. It’s a healthy oil, IMO.

Maybe? I myself just don’t care. I have seen GMO seed for sale, but had no desire to try them. Hard to find really but one or two nurseries that sell to farmers will sell small amounts to homeowners.

You also, according to what you said earlier (if I’m remembering correctly – of course, correct me if I’m wrong), swap fruit you grow for meat from friends of yours that hunt, and personally, I think examples like that are by far the best kind of examples of ways to eat and to produce food. You can’t beat a supply chain like that for conscious decision-making free from extreme/exaggerated monetary pressures to compromise all the things the “farmer” (by which I’m including hunters here) would place value on if he were freer. I find a lot more to like in that example, even if you believe in using some things that aren’t organic in growing your fruit, than I do in the organic label where you’re not sure how it was really produced, and even if you do know, the market is being driven overwhelmingly by demand that doesn’t know. However, I do definitely favor the organic label over conventional when I turn to supermarket style options – I think the organic standards are about as good as can be expected for what they are, but by their nature they just leave so many important things (like soil erosion, for just one example) largely or entirely out of the accounting.

Drew, I know there’s GMO sweet corn seed and GMO summer squash, but in the big picture of GMO’s (and even the big picture of home garden crops) they’re so insignificant that I think it’s fair to say we’re basically not talking about home garden type crops at all when we’re talking GMO’s. That may change with time, however.

Probably not as the seed companies for home gardeners scream non-gmo to me all the time. To the point of ridiculousness. Look at this seed package from Baker Creek Heirloom seeds.

^^^Drew, I find the use of scare tactics by seed companies like this highly offensive and sad. Sad because it works! People are so misinformed that they buy into it. I run a gardening forum on facebook and ive come to the point that I wont even allow any discussion of GMO on the forum just for stuff like this. The joe blow gardener has been so falsely endocrinated that after the 1000th time of having to explain that GMO seed is not available to home gardeners and that 98% of what we grow isnt even been bred GMO yet (and having people fight me on it), Ive just given up trying. Its so discouraging to see how easily misled the average gardener (and American) is.


And we deal with it all the time at our farmers markets we put on too. I sware that I answer the question “is this GMO?” three hundred times a saturday. Its just galling because almost none of the people who ask such question have a clue what they are even asking. Its just a catch word everyone has latched onto.


Yes, the masses are lead by the nose very easily. Frank Zappa once said that the most abundant element in the universe is not hydrogen, it’s stupidity. Sometimes the masses have it right, but often are extremely misinformed. I’m not suggesting GMO’s are good or bad, but like you say is so true, they don’t even know what they are asking. OK, after what you said the seed packet makes perfect sense. I was blaming the seed company, but like you, it is probably the most asked question, so I guess they solved it. You need a giant sign above your booth!

I think – and I guess I’m agreeing with Eric A. here – that seed companies like Baker Creek are feeding this nonsense at least as much as they’re responding to it. From what I’ve seen, Baker Creek stands out as the worst/most exploitative.

I think people are right to be highly suspicious/skeptical of our mainstream food system, but the foolishness Eric A. described doesn’t help anything (except to make people mistakenly feel good about things that are meaningless and empty, as well as to profit those that exploit their ignorance and foolishness.)

I think the only good solution to the problem Eric A. describes at his farmers’ market is for consumers to back way off on shopping labels and slogans and other superficial things like that and instead commit to concentrating their dealings with farmers they can get to know well enough to trust (and hopefully get some substantive ag ed out of the relationship, too.)

I really like going to the farmer’s market. We have the Eastern Market here. It’s huge and is only 2 days a week, all year. Flower day is coming and over 1 million flowers will be there. I don’t usually buy any, I plant annuals from seed. I’m doing that right now! I’m on a break! Grabbed the Zinnia seeds… But it shows how huge it is, and most area farmers are there. I like to buy from the Amish there. Best chicken I ever had! They also sell produce.
I go to a few other farmer’s market if in the area. And even road side stands when i can.
I have a cottage in another county, so when there I go to the local markets.