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What’s the deal on no-till?
A farmer planting into corn stalk residue in a no-till  eld.
Courtesy of Croplife Canada
A prairie farmer stands in a  eld during The Dust Bowl (or Dirty Thirties).
Was farming more environmentally friendly in the “good old days”?
Some people believe that environmental degradation is a phenomenon of “modern” farming. History tells a different story, though. The “dust bowl” of the 1930s, for example, was caused by a combination of drought and ploughing (tilling) the land too much. Early methods of crop protection often involved signi cant tillage. Toxic but naturally occurring substances, such as sulphur, mercury, and arsenic compounds, were also commonly used to  ght pests and diseases. Many of these older substances are no longer used because of their toxicity and inability to break down in the environment.
Newer products are safer and much more tightly controlled and regulated by government.
Farmers are on the frontline of all kinds
of weather conditions, so they’re among the  rst to experience and adapt to the changing climate. Persistent dry conditions in the prairies, for example, have elicited signi cant shifts in preferred tillage methods to help prevent top soil from being blown away in heavy winds.73
Today, crop growing methods like “conservation tillage” (working the soil as little as possible) or “no-till” (not working the soil at all) are widely used. This
latter technique involves leaving leftover material from the harvested crop (roots and stalks) in the  eld. The next crop is then planted directly into that ground-covering material. Both these techniques help to increase the amount of organic matter and nutrients in the soil, prevent soil erosion, improve water conservation, and promote
populations of bene cial insects. And as a bonus, it’s also less work for farmers.
The development of crops that are tolerant to speci c herbicides (through biotechnology) can have environmental bene ts as well. Instead of churning (tilling) the soil, farmers growing these crops can use a spray to kill weeds – without worrying about the health of their plants.
And less time, labour, and fuel are spent preparing the  eld for planting. This change reduces greenhouse gas emissions, another key component of sustainable
food production. In fact, plant science innovations of all kinds mean farmers have to drive over their  elds fewer times, saving 126 to 194 million litres of diesel fuel every year.74
Pro le
Trevor and Michelle Scherman
Trevor and Michelle Scherman, along with their family, farm wheat, canola, peas and lentils on their third generation family farm in central Saskatchewan. They have embraced new farming technologies – like new seed varieties, high-tech equipment, GPS and satellite data analysis – to grow the most food on the land they have. Trevor appreciates the challenges of farming and enjoys the opportunity to build their family business while bringing food to the world.
The Real Dirt on Farming 41
Trevor & Michelle Scherman with their children

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