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Conservation Tillage


Crops developed with agricultural biotechnology reduce the need for tillage or plowing, allowing farmers to adopt conservation or “no-till” farming practices.  Leaving the farmland undisturbed has increased soil erosion control, while reducing runoff, tractor fuel use and greenhouse gas emission.  In 2006 alone, greenhouse gas emission was reduced 14.8 million metric tons, which is equivalent to removing 6.5 million cars from the road.
In 2004, greenhouse gas emissions were reduced 10 million metric tons.
In 2004, greenhouse gas emissions were reduced 10 million metric tons.
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BIOTECHNOLOGY CONTRIBUTES TO SIGNIFICANT DECREASE IN PLOWING
Sustainable Ag Practices Benefit Farmers, Environment, Society

Since the introduction of biotech crops in 1996, farmers have reduced — and, in some cases, completely stopped — plowing or tilling the soil to eliminate weeds and prepare fields for planting.  The benefits of conservation tillage range from soil erosion control to improved wildlife habitat to a reduction in greenhouse gases and fuel use.

“Our problem with erosion was very serious and it was very damaging to the environment to the extent that, in these crops, to produce one ton of grain in Brazil, we lost 10 tons of soil per hectare per year.  We solved this problem by eliminating tillage,” says Almir Rebelo, grower advisor and president of Friends of the Earth, a Brazilian grower organization influential in the adoption of no-till farming in Brazil.

With conservation tillage, farmers leave the stubble or plant residue on the soil’s surface, rather than plowing or disking it into the soil.  The new crop is planted directly into this stubble, and genetically modified (GM) herbicide-tolerant plants make it possible and practical for growers to control weeds in the crop by applying an herbicide rather than plowing.  

A reduction in plowing means a decrease in the number “tractor trips” across a field — resulting in fuel savings and a reduction in greenhouse gas emission.  “Looking at the impact on greenhouse gas emissions, the technology has helped deliver important savings,” says Graham Brookes, an agricultural economist and director of UK-based PG Economics.  “In 2004, 10 billion kilograms less carbon dioxide have been released into the atmosphere.  And that’s equivalent to taking 20 percent of the cars in the United Kingdom off the road for a year.”

In the United States alone, farmers have increased no-till farming acres by 35 percent since 1996 when GM crops were first planted.   “We no longer have to till the fields to control weeds, where we used to have to till two, three times and use more diesel and jeopardize the soil to more erosion,” says Terry Wanzek, a U.S. corn and soybean farmer.

“As a result of us keeping crop residue on the ground, we have a new foraging opportunity for wildlife,” says U.S. cotton, corn and soybean farmer Jay Hardwick.  “So we’re seeing a new happening on the landscape in terms of wildlife emergence.  Not only top of it, but underneath.  Earthworms are coming back to play, and earthworms are strategic in getting water into the soil structure.”

The impact of no-till farming and soil erosion control has been just as significant to farmers in the developing world.  “We do not have to burn the residue in our harvest anymore,” says Jerry Due, a Filipino corn farmer.  “We just allow the residue to decompose in the field to become fertilizers.”

Editor’s Notes:

  • 1 kg = 2.2 lbs.
  • 1 hectare = 2.5 acres

© 2006 Monsanto Company.   All rights reserved.  The copyright holder consents to the use of this material and the images in the published context only and solely for the purpose of promoting the benefits of agricultural biotechnology.

Video Transcript



Dr. Klaus Ammann, Botanist, Switzerland
… plowing is a catastrophe for the soil biodiversity. … Plowing has been an old-fashioned strategy to kill the weeds, and now we have better ways and means to kill the weeds.

Luciana Di Ciero, ESALQ, University of São, Brazil
Transgenic varieties are beneficial for the environment … because herbicide-tolerant plants made it much easier to use to use minimal tilling … where we don’t move the soil that much and don’t use any practices to prepare the soil.  And this is very beneficial for the environment… Minimal tilling avoids erosion, which — with conventional planting — causes huge soil losses.

Almir Rebelo, Friends of the Earth, Brazil
… our problem with erosion was very serious and it was very damaging to the environment to the extent that, in these crops, to produce one ton of grain in Brazil, we lost 10 tons of soil per hectare per year. … We solved this problem by eliminating tillage. …

With no-till — leaving the crop residue on the surface — the rain doesn’t fall directly on the soil.  The sunlight doesn’t get directly to the soil.  We don’t need to burn the crop residue.  And, we don’t plow. …

When we changed from conventional planting to no-till, it was only possible because of an herbicide product with total action … We could get a soy which was tolerant to this product.

Paul Aasness, Farmer, United States
We’ve got some land … that if you till it too much, it’ll blow.  And if you don’t till it, you get crab grass.  You get thistles.  You get milkweed.  You get all kinds of weed pressure that just keep coming on you year after year that reduces yield.  Now, with Roundup, we can leave those areas and not till them.  We can minimum-till or no-till them.

Al Skogen, Farmer, United States
No-till and minimum-till operations have just overtaken the landscape.  Things that we just couldn’t do before without these technologies.

Gordon Wassenaar, Farmer, United States
… we lose less soil from erosion in 10 years than we used to lose years ago in one year.

Paul Brimblecombe, Farmer, Australia
The Roundup Ready technology has benefited our management to the term that we’ve minimized the number of cultivations that are required to control the weeds.

Terry Wanzek, Farmer, United States
We no longer have to till the fields to control weeds, where we use to have to till two, three times and use more diesel and jeopardize the soil to more erosion.

Almir Rebelo
… with no-tillage and biotechnology, we have been able to decrease fossil fuel consumption on average by more than 50 percent.

Graham Brookes, PG Economics
Looking at the impact on greenhouse gas emissions, the technology has helped deliver important savings.  In 2004, 10 billion kilograms less carbon dioxide have been released into the atmosphere.  And that’s equivalent to taking 20 percent of the cars in the United Kingdom off the road for a year.

Jerry Due, Farmer, Philippines
… we do not have to burn the residue in our harvest anymore.  We just allow the residue to decompose in the field to become fertilizers.

Jay Hardwick, Farmer, United States
As a result of us … keeping crop residue on the ground … we have a new foraging opportunity for wildlife … using a lot of new biotechnical materials that allow us to not cultivate the land as hard.  So we’re seeing a new happening on the landscape in terms of wildlife emergence.  Not only top of it, but underneath. … It’s just a real treat to see that.  And to say that agriculture is helping is a real success story that needs to be told.

Almir Rebelo
When we look at this crop residue, we see a lot of things: a change of behavior, a change in society, a guarantee that we are preserving this soil for life for future generations with a better quality.  It is a guarantee that it’s immortal.

Editor’s Notes:

  • 1 hectare = 2.5 acres
  • Roundup Ready® varieties contain in-plant tolerance to Roundup® agricultural herbicides. Roundup® is a registered trademark of Monsanto Company.  Roundup Ready® is a registered trademark of Monsanto Company

© 2006 Monsanto Company.   All rights reserved.  The copyright holder consents to the use of this material and the images in the published context only and solely for the purpose of promoting the benefits of agricultural biotechnology.