How would history be different if John Deere wasn't a blacksmith in the prairies in the 1830's? Would someone else have given agriculture the same plow? Or would history have taken a different turn?
Randall Reeder, retired Ohio State University ag engineer, asked a crowd of farmers in Richmond to think what history might have been like if John Deere had been a chemist instead of a blacksmith. Would he have discovered glyphosate? Would no-till – not plowing – been a farmer's method of choice from the start?
Is Reeder serious? Maybe, maybe not. But the question does cause you to think. Naturally, someone pipes up, "they would have had glyphosate-resistant weeds by the 1840's."
What he is serious about is asking you to rethink why you do tillage. What tillage system would you choose if you were starting from scratch today?
Even by the 1950's, only the bravest were thinking there might be a system better than plowing. Most who tried some version of no-till even into the early 1970's found difficulties.
"Some thought there was too much plant residue on the surface," he says. "Planter technology wasn't ready for some of the challenges no-till presented back then. And probably the inability to control weeds was still number one in answering why people still plowed."
What about today? What reasons do those who plow or chisel plow give today?
"They still say there's too much residue," Reeder notes. "Sometimes there are ruts from fall harvest. We saw that after a wet fall in 2011. Some think soil compaction from heavy machinery is a reason to plow up the soil. Then there are still issues with weeds, insects and diseases."
Today, Reeder says there are systems that will give you ways to handle most of these problems besides plowing. You can choose from no-till, strip-till, ridge-till, mulch tillage, reduced tillage or vertical tillage. You can also use cover crops without plowing because there are chemicals to burn them down.
Reeder accomplished his goal with the audience – get them to think why selected the tillage system they use, and consider if there are other options that would work better for them.