Change is seldom easy, especially when it’s the type of change that risks affecting your livelihood. Risk aversion is common amongst farmers, and understandably so. After all, the vagaries of markets and weather add a constant element of uncertainty to farming unparalleled in other professions.
One of the most discussed changes in farming over the last decade has been transitioning to no-tillage. Both academics and farmers have promoted the benefits of no-till to soil health. No-till can increase water infiltration, boost soil organic matter, and reduce soil erosion. However, despite its impressive benefits, transitioning to no-till can present challenges.
One of the main challenges is the transition time. It can take anywhere between 3-5 years to realize the full benefits of a no-till regimen. During this time, the many benefits of no-till such as better tilth and improved soil health, have yet to fully form; however, all the drawbacks of no-till, such as nutrient stratification and disease harboring, remain present.
One of the best ways to reduce this lag effect is to combine no-till with cover crops. Cover crops can cut no-till transition time by over half. Adding a cover crop helps the soil transition faster by adding carbon and promoting healthy soil biology. Cover crops and no-till are each great practices on their own, but when combined farmers get a lot more bang for their buck.