AgriNews, IL 06-02-06 Illinois farmers reduce tillage, help environment

AgriNews, IL
Illinois farmers reduce tillage, help environment
GREENSBORO, N.C. — It’s difficult to drive across Illinois at this time of year
without seeing farmers out in the fields, with tractors and planters carefully
placing billions of corn and soybean seeds across more than 20 million acres of
This year, those tractors are burning diesel fuel that has soared to painful price
levels – more than 20 percent above prices last spring.
Fortunately, recent trends have led farmers away from extensive tillage of fields
and more toward no-till or conservation tillage programs that both reduce fuel
costs and improve water quality.
Dennis Tierney, senior stewardship leader for water quality at Syngenta Crop
Protection in Greensboro, said conservation tillage was used on a record 113
million acres across the country in 2004, up nearly 10 million acres from just two
years earlier.
Illinois farmers led the way with more acreage under no-till farming than any
other state. And that has a direct impact on fuel use because, according to one
Iowa State University study, no-till farming uses about four gallons less diesel
per acre – a 74 percent savings – than conventional tillage systems.
And benefits of no-till go beyond fuel savings. Proceedings of the 2005 Georgia
Water Resources Conference shows no-till and other conservation tillage
systems that leave crop residue on the soil surface can reduce sediment loss by
as much as 98 percent, reduce nutrient losses by as much as 90 percent and cut
pesticide runoff from fields by as much as 80 percent, as compared with
conventional tillage.
When it comes to protecting the environment, farmers are the experts in
implementing best management practices from tillage, fertilizer applications and
other farming techniques to planting grass waterways, creating riparian buffer
strips, building terraces and other environmentally-friendly improvements for farm
And conservation tillage and other watershed management programs do have an
impact. A nine-year study by the U.S. Geological Survey conducted from 1989 to
1998 showed levels of atrazine, a commonly used corn herbicide, in 53
Midwestern streams decreased about 47 percent between 1989-90 and 1994-95.
Today, atrazine levels in water are well within safety standards and continue to
“Conservation programs are improving water quality by reducing runoff, and
improving air quality and farm economics by reducing fuel use,” Tierney said.
“With two-thirds of the land in the United States managed by private landowners,
these responsible agriculture programs have a very favorable impact on our