Conservation Tillage Systems in the Southeast

Summary

Overview

Beginning in the 1700s, farmers came to recognize that intensive production practices led to increased soil erosion, which threatened the land’s productivity. As a result, farmers and researchers gradually developed the practices that constitute today’s conservation tillage systems. One of the earliest strategies was to add winter crops to rotations, which took advantage of residues to protect the soil. Extension researchers developed the first conservation tillage method in the 1930s, with more advanced techniques arriving in subsequent decades. The adoption of no-till increased with the development of the herbicides atrazine and paraquat in the 1960s, and again with the development of glyphosate-resistant crops three decades later. The federal government introduced conservation subsidy programs in the 1980s and 90s to further promote adoption. Although new challenges with herbicide-resistant weeds are emerging, advocates of conservation tillage think that such systems will remain popular as new advancements are made, in particular in the areas of technology, crop rotation and the use of cover crops. The agricultural community now recognizes a range of benefits associated with conservation tillage systems, including environmental benefits (e.g., improved air, water and soil quality), economic benefits (e.g., reduced labor, greater flexibility in planting) and quality of life benefits (e.g., reduced labor and greater flexibility in planting).

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