No-Till Farming a Growing Option
Foreman, Chris, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Fred Slezak's grain-farming operation covers about 1,200 acres, but he doesn't plow the land to plant crops.
The 53-year-old Salem farmer favors a conservation method known as no-till farming, which experts say has been slower to catch on in Western Pennsylvania despite its popularity elsewhere in the state. A new tax credit is aimed at boosting the practice statewide.
Especially with the sting of rising gas prices, Slezak says the technique is the best way to farm more acres with more people but with lower fuel and machinery costs.
"As far as I'm concerned, it's basically the only way to farm. It's almost become a religion," said Slezak, who farms in Salem, Derry and Unity townships. "The bottom line is, we're looking at energy costs and they're skyrocketing, and reducing energy costs is critical."
Proponents contend the fuel savings is only one benefit of no- and minimum-till farming methods, which are the topic of a Jan. 23 conference in Unity sponsored by regional conservation groups.
Instead of tearing up the land with a plow, no-till equipment -- like a drill and a 16-row corn planter -- disturbs the soil only enough to drop the new season's seed.
The practice increases water infiltration and reduces soil erosion, while leaving the stalks and roots of the previous season's crops in the field, advocates say.
"I'm 100 percent better off. Nothing's worse than losing soil," said Bill Selembo, a Salem dairy farmer who is scheduled to speak at the conference about his 10 years of experience with no-till farming.
"When you use no-till, you spray and you plant," Selembo said. "You save three trips across the field."
No-till farming got its start in 1965, and the technique now accounts for the cultivation of about 22 percent of the row crop ground in the U.S., according to Frank Lessiter, editor of the monthly No-Till Farmer publication in Brookfield, Wis.
Last year, in the first statewide survey of tillage practices for field crops, farmers reported they intended to use no-till farming on 50.4 percent of major crop acreage, according to the Pennsylvania field office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service.
The percentage is lower in Western Pennsylvania, experts say, because of the high concentration of clay soils in some areas and the reluctance of traditionalists to break from their ancestors' techniques. …