No-till farming is an agricultural process where crops are planted over the prior crop without tilling.
Since ancient times, farmers believed in the necessity of turning over the soil before planting. Shovels or plows turned over the prior crop, exposing the soil the next crop. Their belief was based on the idea that agricultural decay of prior crops will smother newer crops.
As farm technology evolved, farms grew much larger. The moldboard plow and automated harvester enabled farms many times larger than anything before them.
In the American west, where topsoil is not as deep, these farming techniques caused massive soil erosion. By the 1930s enormous dust-storms rolled through the western plains, destroying crops and causing further erosion.
Due to the Great Depression, farmers were already in perilous financial shape. Dust storms destroying their crops and topsoil, while banks demanding payment, pushed many into homelessness. In 1939, John Steinbeck documented their plight in his fiction-based-on-fact book The Grapes of Wrath.
The Plowman’s Folly
In 1943, scientist Edward Faulkner released a book, the Plowman’s Folly. He posed one seemingly simple observation, “The fact is that no one has ever advanced a scientific reason for plowing.”
Faulkner reasoned turning over the earth removed moisture, caused erosion, required time, wasted fuel, removed mulch, harmed animal habitats, and did not help the future crop at all. Despite that tilling dated back thousands of years, there was no reason real reason to turn over the earth except the tilled soil looked nice.
Plowman’s Folly achieved two goals. First, it created an effective dominant farming technique that prevents erosion. Second, Faulkner demonstrated that assumed facts might be demonstrably incorrect. Ever since Copernicus made his way to the heretic list in the 1500s for proposing the earth rotates around the sun, there are few innovations that challenge ancient beliefs.
Today, no-till farming is common throughout the world. The only problem is some farmers rely on chemicals for weed control, rather than turning over the earth. However, there are organic no-till farming methods.