But results don’t come quickly for farmers making the transition to no-till. “You can’t expect to get results in the first season if the soil you are working with is dead,” says Dolman. “The folks who complain about no-till are expecting miracles from a corpse.”
Indeed, no-till farming comes with its fair share of critics. For one, the practice often requires a great deal more herbicides than average to manage weeds, especially early on.
Jeff Moyer, Rodale Institute’s Farm Director, explains in his book Organic No-Till Farming:
Typically, as tillage is reduced, herbicide management is increased in an attempt to control weeds. Although some surface residues are generated from no-till, they are not enough to provide consistent weed control. This dependence on herbicides generates a host of problems, from resistant weeds to the destruction of beneficial insects.
That said, increasing evidence shows that heavy herbicide use might not be necessary when practicing no-till. And spraying herbicides is a shortcut that organic farmers, like Kaiser, refuse to endorse.
Jeff Mitchell, a Cropping Systems Specialist with the University of California, argues that if you practice no-till farming correctly, weed management isn’t an issue. Mitchell believes that the mindset of the farmer is the most important part of the transition. If the farmer doesn’t completely dive into the system, he or she will fail. It’s an all or nothing method of farming.
This is easier said than done. “Farmers are not used to it, they don’t have the equipment, and it is too hard to change their major systems,” Mitchell explains.
The consensus among no-till advocates is: If you treat your farm as an ecosystem and focus on soil health as the most crucial part of that ecosystem, the system works.