Thirty years ago, conservation tillage—the agronomic practice of limited or no tillage of the soil to leave residue from a previously harvested crop on top of the soil — had started to take hold, and it needed a stronger advocacy voice to promote the practices and benefits of reduced erosion and water runoff. Farmers and the agricultural industry joined to form the Conservation Tillage Information Center (now the Conservation Technology Information Center or CTIC) to help farmers, those in government and the environmental community learn more about the importance of conservation tillage.
Nearly 50 percent of all cropland uses some version of conservation tillage as a management practice. There is still more work to be done as the agriculture industry strives to increase conservation tillage acres. Though CTIC paused to celebrate 30 years as an organization, which culminated with an event at Monsanto’s St. Louis campus in October, the group has not slowed in its advocating for conservation tillage. The focus on soil health and quality is as apparent today as it was in 1982.
Focusing on Soil Health
“The future of human kind depends on us not degrading soil resources – we must improve the trend of soil degradation,” said panelist Jerry Hatfield, director of the USDA-ARS National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, during the celebration event. “We’re going to have to re-think everything we think we know about agriculture.”
“Soil is one of our greatest natural resources in North America,” said Dan DeSutter, owner of DeSutter Farms in Attica, Ind., and a member of one of the event’s panels to discuss the future of conservation tillage. “Soil organic management is measurable. If we can focus on improving organic management, we can reduce fertilizer use and pesticide use and then it all comes together.
“If there’s one thing we can do in the next 25 years, it’s set a goal for soil quality and take steps to achieve it and improve soil quality.”
Technology plays a major role in soil conservation. At Monsanto, we’ve pledged to conserve resources through developing seeds that use one-third fewer key resources per unit produced. Our product offerings like Roundup Ready crops and Integrated Farming Systems (IFS) help farmers maintain the integrity and productivity of their soil while conserving resources and inputs.
The IFS platform provides farmers with science-based information on seed selection, planting densities and nutrient application for their specific field requirements. Using field-specific soil models, we will offer information that can assist farmers in selecting the best product mix and the best management practices for their field. More precise input applications can help farmers conserve more of the resources that are essential to their success.
Targeting Global Conservation Practices
“We will become more precise and targeted with our work,” said panelist Larry Clemens, assistant state director for conservation programs at The Nature Conservancy, and a CTIC board member. “We’ll be able to make better decisions thanks to a nice package of technology, biological improvements and data integration.”
The group also discussed farmers’ ability to feed a population that is expected to grow by 2-3 billion people by the middle of the century. The need to share conservation practices across the world to improve production and conservation techniques is important.
“North American farmers are the most productive in the world, but you can’t just lay a North American system on a foreign country and expect it to work,” said panelist Jim Moseley, former deputy secretary of agriculture for the USDA. “We need to develop a way to translate what works here for the rest of the world.”
Partnerships are Key
Partnerships, and their ability to guide sustainable agriculture, were another topic of conversation.
“We need partnerships across the entire supply and value chain,” said Fred Luckey, chairman of Field-to-Market, the Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture. “No one entity can drive this. We must find value propositions that enable the grower to find value in doing things in a conservative way, and these value propositions must be provided by the entire supply chain.
“Growers don’t want to be dictated to – if we give them the tools to see into their operations and find value in conservation, they will make the investments they need.”