Many of today's farmers are using a "no-till system," leaving the soil undisturbed after harvesting a crop. The farmer plants or drills the seeds for the new crop in a slot created by special equipment with disks or chisels.
Farmers who use a no-till system reduce the number of times they go over the soil. They conserve soil by reducing their plowing, disking and harrowing. And they save time, labor, fuel and money. No-till methods prevent wind and water from eroding the soil and decrease soil compaction, which happens when equipment presses down the soil over and over with each pass of the tractor. The residue from last year's crop helps to hold the moisture in the soil.
"Sustainable agriculture" describes the balance between producing crops and consuming crops. Farmers who practice sustainable agriculture today may use practices similar to the 1930s: using manure from their livestock to fertilize the fields that grow animal feed. This reduces the need for fertilizer and therefore reduces the cost of raising their livestock. Sustainable agriculture also tries to protect cultivated land and preserve family farms and rural communities.
"Organic farmers" usually rotate their crops (similar to 1930s practices) to replenish soil nutrients without using commercial fertilizer and they use no-till practices. They do not use plows that turn over and expose the soil to wind and rain, and they leave part of the unharvested crop on the field, covering the soil and preventing erosion. The government has many rules for growing food that is sold as "certified organic."
Written by Claudia Reinhardt and Bill Ganzel, the Ganzel Group. First written and published in 2003.