No-till acreage expands in Tennessee Tennessee farmers took action to conserve their soil and protect the environment this year by increasing use of no-till farming, says a soils specialist at the University of Tennessee.

According to the Tennessee Agricultural Statistics Service, of the three million acres in Tennessee planted in soybeans, corn, cotton and wheat, 55 percent were planted no-till this year. This compares to 44 percent in 1999 and 40 percent in 1998.

"For the first time, no-till was used on more than half of the cropped acreage in the state," said H. Paul Denton, soils specialist with the Agricultural Extension Service at UT.

"The increase was particularly dramatic in cotton, with no-till use increasing from 31 percent of acreage to 50 percent in just one year."

No-till is a system of farming in which the crop is planted directly into old-crop residue or a cover crop, he said. The only soil disturbance is a narrow strip for seed placement. Most of the soil remains covered with a layer of mulch, which increases rainwater infiltration and reduces soil erosion and runoff from the fields.

"Water pollution from crop production is also greatly reduced by no-till," Denton said. "The amount of soil, nutrients and pesticides that run off the field is reduced by 50 to 90 percent, depending on the crop."

Why was there such a dramatic increase in no-till acreage this year?

"Several factors play a part," Denton said. "Concern about the environment is as strong among farmers as with any other sector of the public, and soil erosion is a greater concern for them because it degrades their own land resources.

"Farmers are interested in any technology that will protect the environment and conserve resources, if it's economically feasible," he added. "Years of research and education by the University of Tennessee's Institute of Agriculture, combined with farmer experience, have proven no-till is a viable, profitable system, giving farmers the confidence to adopt it."

No-till saves fuel compared to other systems, and fuel costs have risen greatly this year, Denton said.

"But the biggest factor (in the increase) may be biotechnology. Weed control in no-till is by herbicide. And the development of crops that are resistant to broad-spectrum herbicides has made weed control in no-till easier and more effective. This is probably the biggest factor in explaining the dramatic increase in no-till cotton."

Use of the new herbicide-resistant varieties, developed through biotechnology, has become widespread in the past two years. "Many people have doubts about biotechnology from the environmental standpoint," Denton said.

"But in this case, the environmental benefits of its use are clear. Just from the soil-erosion standpoint, the 500,000 additional acres of no-till over the past two years will reduce sediment leaving fields by more than five million tons. The water-quality benefits to all Tennesseans are substantial," he added.