Soil Matters: The Broad Case for Conservation Tillage

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I finished up my latest term paper last week.  It ended up being significantly different from what I had originally intended, but I’m happy with the end point the research led me to.  I’ve reproduced the intro below and you can download a PDF version of the full paper.  Please chime in with your thoughts in the comments section.  I’m passionate about this topic and would love to learn more about it from you.

Introduction

I like food. No. I love food.  I spent the first three and a half decades of my life having little understanding of the energy needs fulfilled by food and the resources dedicated to its production.  Food was something to be enjoyed and its effects on the environment, not to mention my body, were ancillary concerns. I was ignorant to the impacts of our food systems partially due to systems which are designed for that effect, but more so due to my own failings.  From a climate change perspective this allowed me to make highly destructive, guilt-free, food selections.  I enjoyed fruits and vegetables, but often overlooked them when filling protein and carbohydrate loaded choices were available.  I consumed more calories than my body required and chose foods which typically had greater far greater environmental impacts that necessary.  I knew not the folly of my ways.  I know better now, so consider this my Mea Culpa.  Fortunately, there are plenty of opportunities for me to make amends.

Image by Sandra Mora

For years I have kept a garden both for the enjoyment derived from growing my own food and for the time of quiet reflection it offers.  At first, the act did not fit into a broader world view; it was just one of many things I enjoyed doing. Recently, I have begun to look at food from a new perspective.  Documentary films including: Ingredients, Super Size Me, Food, Inc. & King Corn, made me question my food choices.  I began researching the subject and learned that different foods require vastly different inputs and that their methods of production varied greatly, not only by type of food, but also by growing region for like foods. It became important for me to know how I could help maintain both my family’s health and that of the planet with our consumption decisions. This paper is an attempt to further the understanding of the impacts of these decisions.  To do this, I will examine relevant academic research in pursuit of recommendations for more sustainable global agriculture systems.  Today’s industrial agriculture system practices large-scale monoculture farming which relies on intensive use of fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides and pesticides, as well as heavy soil tillage.  All of these practices run contradictory to natural biological cycles.  Tilling disrupts soil biota and removes vital nutrients via runoff.  In contrast to this, conservation tillage agriculture utilizes low or no-till treatment of the soil and some or all of the following: crop rotation, fallowing, companion planting, and reduced or eliminated use of fertilizers and pesticides in some cases.  The intent of this effort is to improve the author’s, and this paper’s readers, understanding of the impacts these methods have on our soil.  In essence, I wrote this paper because I want us to eat deliberately.  In doing so, we could begin to lessen our environmental impact with every meal.

Image by: by lepetitNicolas