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This week's Book of the Week feature is From the Soil Upby Donald Schriefer.

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From Section III: Seedbed Management

Because one system will not fit all soils every farmer must know the basic soil requirements and then adjust his system to fit his particular situation. He must make his tool selections guided with knowledge and experience. 

In summary, we conclude our study of tillage with a few thought-provoking statements.

  1. The term "conservation tillage" may be, in the same category as "organic foods" or "organic farming", poor terminology. It implies the selection of a tillage system solely for the purpose of soil conservation. Soil conservation is only one aspect of a total soil management system. All tillage practices should conserve the soil, and if a practice does not, it should simply be abandoned. 

The moldboard plow does not conserve soil so it must be abandoned as a general practice. A tillage system must have well defined objectives such as those outlined under “Tillage Principles and Systems”.

Our endeavors to manage soil air, water and residue decomposition are prime factors towards increased yields. When these areas are managed, soil conservation is automatically taken care of.

Figure 60

It is much easier to bring about tillage changes when we can show the logic of total soil management. “Conservation tillage” will not sell, except to the few totally dedicated because it is just too confining. All farmers would like to stop erosion, but most will grudgingly sacrifice their soils rather than change practices that have been long established. It is simple human nature to look after one’s self-interests. Conservation tillage may be compared to tunnel vision—it does not address the whole picture, despite the good intentions behind it. If we manage the basics, soil conservation will be accomplished without making it the central issue.

  1. There is a general belief that intensive farming and high yields are in some way causing massive soil destruction. This is simply not true. High yields or intensive farming by itself does not cause the destruction of soils. Instead, it is the individual practices used in production that cause soil losses. The simple truth is that total soil management will increase the quality and quantity of yields and, at the same time, conserves the soil. The practices that cause soil erosion will eventually put severe limitations on both yields and quality. We can obtain high yields while destroying our soil, but not for very long.
  2. Tillage is always soil destructive. It is a necessary evil in assuring crop survival and production. Tillage is a one-sided act; it favors the plant at the expense of the soil. This is why it is so important to gain an in-depth knowledge of soil science, so that we may till the soil with minimal damage. The necessary soil destruction brought by farming must not exceed the ability of the soil to mend itself. This must become a primary objective of everyone who tills soil. With this objective achieved, we will be able to farm the soil until the next glacial period!Figure 61
  3. Proper soil tillage results in the best management of soil air, soil water, and the decomposition of residue. These three areas determine the availability of nutrients and their uptake or recovery by the roots. The effects of a good tillage system can, under certain conditions, equal or even exceed the effect of adding fertilizers to the soil. For these reasons, the tillage system is an extremely important area of management. This is not to deny the importance of maintaining soil fertility. It simply means that we must thing beyond the simple act of adding fertilizers. Because the fertility of a soil is determined by the crop’s ability to recover nutrients, anything that can be done to improve recovery will increase its fertility. Fertility, after all, is worthless unless it can be recovered by the plant.
  4. Soil losses from prime farmland are more severe today that at any period of time during the last twenty or thirty years. These increasing losses continue in spite of the Soil Conservation Service’s efforts and dedications during the last three to four years. The vast majority of prime farmland has little or no conservative practices in use. Soil losses are so severe that legislation may become necessary to curb it. We do not need more legislation; we need education.Figure 62

Figures 60 and 61 are prime examples of the problem. The purpose of these waterways appears to be solely to protect a gulley! It will not be long until these waterways will be filled with silt from the totally unprotected surrounding field.

Tax dollars were used to build this waterway. Contrast this with Figure 62, which sows a tillage system that properly utilizes residue to manage soil air, water and residue decay. The difference between these two farmers is education. One understands soil management principles and the other does not.

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About the Author:

Donald L. Schriefer passed from this life on July 30, 1998. He had spent more than five years battling acute leukemia, but he did not lie down and wait for death to come. He left this manuscript as a legacy to his lifelong friends — the farmers — knowing that those left behind would have it published.

One of America’s first “environmental agronomists,” he is best known for his consulting work on behalf of many of the country’s largest, most successful farmers. His innovation in tillage systems, foliar feeding of crops, and soil fertility management earned him the respect of both conventional and ecological farmers. He contributed frequently to various agricultural publications and was well known for conducting numerous seminars and farm programs annually.

Books by the Same Author:

Agriculture in Transition – This book covers such topics as soil chemistry, plant and soil dynamics, above- and below-ground plant management, row support fertilization, zone-tillage, disc-chiseling, and more. 

Buy From the Soil Up and Agriculture in Transition as a combo and save!

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