Looking Back on Four Decades of No-Till Research

October 8, 2007

PLAIN CITY, Ohio -- Forty-six years ago, in small corn/soybean plots at Ohio State University's Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, no-till research was born.

Today, Ohio leads the Midwest in no-till adoption with 3.7 million acres, or roughly 40 percent of all cropland, in no-till production. Many believe no-till, the practice of leaving residue on the soil surface instead of plowing it under, is one of the most important innovations in U.S. history that revolutionized agriculture.

The success of no-till and the wide variety of benefits it affords -- increased carbon storage, improved soil quality, labor reduction, and increased organic matter, among others -- will be showcased during this year's Ohio No-Till Conference.

The event will take place Dec. 4 from 8 a.m. until 3:15 p.m. at Der Dutchman Restaurant in Plain City, Ohio. Registration is $20 before Nov. 29 and $25 at the door, and includes refreshments, exhibits, and lunch. The event is sponsored by the Ohio No-Till Council in cooperation with Ohio State University Extension and U.S. Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The OARDC no-till plots, located in Wooster, Ohio, were established by Ohio State soil physicist Dave Van Doren and weed scientist Glover Triplett after they observed that corn planted into no-till fields performed better than those that grew in tilled fields.

"The initial research questions to be answered were basic. They simply wanted to know how much tillage, if any, was really needed to grow a crop," said OARDC soil scientist Warren Dick. "The early years were devoted to learning better weed control methods, what type of planting equipment worked best, and how to consistently promote seedling emergence and a good crop stand."

Little did Van Doren and Triplett realize that the no-till plots would yield years of new discoveries and valuable research data.

"The original thought was that changes in soil properties would occur rather rapidly for about 10 years and then level off," said Dick. "However, after 20 years, they were still seeing changes."

Today, the Wooster no-till plots, and those established at the OARDC Northwest and Western agricultural research stations are considered to be the longest continuously maintained no-till plots in the world.

In 1984, the task of maintaining and studying the no-till plots was passed to Dick, who continues to seek answers from the new questions that have emerged.

"The early questions about no-till were answered with weigh wagons. Today, new questions have emerged that require mass spectrometers, enzyme assays, and DNA probes to study changes in soil and related properties," said Dick. "Instead of bushels of corn, the current data looks at tons of carbon being sequestered by no-till, the amount of microbial diversity that is promoted, and the way the soil profile continues to change."

Dick will attend the Ohio No-Till Conference and share his experiences in working on the no-till plots. He will include lessons learned and new data on soil profile changes after four decades of continuous no-till on a Wooster silt loam soil and a Hoytville silt clay loam soil.

Dick is the 2007 recipient of the Ohio No-Till Award for Education and Research, presented to individuals who have played a major role in the development of no-till in Ohio. He will be presented with the award during the conference.

Other topics presented during the Ohio No-Till Conference include selecting and establishing cover crops, nitrogen credits from legume cover crops after wheat, corn after corn production with continuous no-till, and a farmer panel highlighting the success of continuous corn in no-till production. OSU Extension specialists, experienced no-till farmers, and industry experts will be on-hand to present the information.

For more information on the Ohio No-Till Conference, contact Randall Reeder at (614) 292-6648 or reeder.1@osu.edu. Mail registration to Mark Wilson, Land Stewards, 31 East Pacemont Road, Columbus, OH 43202.

Author(s): 
Candace Pollock
Source(s): 
Randall Reeder