Slowly but surely no-till keeps creeping into more and more U.S. acres every year. It quietly grows at about 1.5% a year.

Last month, USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) released new stats on that growth, in part to address no-till’s potential contribution to climate-change efforts.

The adoption of less-intensive tillage practices, they claim, could sequester substantial amounts of carbon, which could lead to fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

Fortunately, the numbers look promising.

The data show that approximately 35.5% of the U.S. cropland planted to eight major crops, or 88 million acres, had no-tillage operations in 2009. ERS researchers analyzed 2000-2007 data from USDA’s Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS). The crops – barley, corn, cotton, oats, rice, sorghum, soybeans and wheat – comprised 94% of the total planted U.S. acreage in 2009.

  • Not a big surprise, but soybean farmers had the highest percentage of planted acres with no-till (45.3% in 2006; projected at almost 50% in 2009).
  • No-till was practiced on 23.5% of corn acres in 2005 (projected at 29.5% in 2009).
  •  Cotton was no-tilled on 20.7% of planted acres in 2007 (projected at 23.7% in 2009).

Some no-tillers almost verge on being evangelists when it comes to explaining the how and why of their operations. Frankly, I love talking to those farmers who are so passionate about their no-till and conservation efforts.

No one is more at the pulpit on no-till than Paul Jasa, Extension ag engineer at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and 29-year continuous no-till veteran. He explains the biological side of no-till and how nearly invisible fungi and bacteria from residue feed your crops in “Make Residue Your Friend” starting on page 16. He believes you should have at least 80% residue cover on the soil surface. Way to go no-till!