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ERS Report on No-Till Farming

November 3, 2010


On Tuesday, November 2, USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) released a new report entitled, “‘No-Till’ Farming is a Growing Practice.”  In the report, ERS profiles tillage practices for eight major crops (barley, corn, cotton, oats, rice, sorghum, soybeans, and wheat) across the country.  The report details the extent of no-till practices at various points between 2002 and 2007, and projects the extent of no-till practices in 2009.  A summary of the full report is available here.

For a selection of states and a selection of years, the report estimates the number of acres formerly under no till, conservation till, reduced till, and conventional till farming for each of the 8 crops listed above.  It also includes a more detailed look at tillage practices in the Mississippi River Basin.

According to the ERS bulletin, the publication is aimed at “help[ing] policymakers and other interested parties better understand U.S. tillage practices and, especially, those practices’ potential contribution to climate-change efforts.”

No-till farming and conservation tillage contribute to carbon sequestration by preserving soil organic matter.

Key findings of the report include:

  • The data show that approximately 35.5 percent of U.S. cropland planted to the eight major crops (barley, corn, cotton, oats, rice, sorghum, soybeans, and wheat), or 88 million acres, had no tillage operations in 2009.
  • No-till increased for corn, cotton, soybeans, and rice (four crops for which data are sufficient for researchers to calculate a trend) at a median rate of roughly 1.5 percentage points per year.  Although no-till is generally increasing, it did not increase in all States for all crops in the study period (2000-07).
  • Soybean farmers had the highest percentage of planted acres with no-till (45.3 percent in 2006; projected at almost 50 percent in 2009).
  • No-till was practiced on 23.5 percent of corn acres in 2005 (projected at 29.5 percent in 2009).  No-till corn was considerably less prevalent in the four States that constitute the bulk of the Mississippi River Basin (15 percent of corn acres in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin had no tillage operations in 2005) than the remaining Basin States (31 percent in Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, and South Dakota) or the U.S. average (23.5 percent).
  • Rice farmers had the lowest percentage of planted acres with no-till (11.8 percent in 2006; projected at 16.3 percent in 2009) among the major crops analyzed.
  • Barley farmers practiced no-till on 27.6 percent of planted acres in 2003 (projected at 36.6 percent in 2009).
  • Oat farmers practiced no-till on 13.8 percent of planted acres in 2005 (projected at 19.8 percent in 2009).
  • Sorghum farmers practiced no-till on 25 percent of planted acres in 2003 (projected at 34 percent in 2009).
  • Wheat farmers practiced no-till on 21.9 percent of planted acres in 2004 (projected at 29.4 percent in 2009).
  • Cotton farmers practiced no-till on 20.7 percent of planted acres in 2007 (projected at 23.7 percent in 2009).  While the national percentage of no-till cotton increased from 2007 to 2009, estimated percentages fell between 2003 and 2007 in more than half the States in which cotton was grown.
  • In the Upper Mississippi River Basin, 16 percent of agricultural acres were in no-till for 1 year, 12 percent were in no-till for 2 consecutive years, and 13 percent were in no-till for 3 consecutive years, based on surveys conducted from 2003-2006.

To estimate the extent of no-till practices, ERS used Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) results on production relationships, cropping history, and field operations, Cropland Survey data from the National Resources Inventory-Conservation Effects Assessment Project (NRI-CEAP), and National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) estimates of 2009 planted acres.  ERS assumed that the proportion of no-till acres expanded by 1.5 percentage points per year from the last crop survey year.


Categories: Conservation, Energy & Environment


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