Sunday, June 5, 2011

Conservation Agriculture

Beekeeping is a small but important part of a changing agriculture. Every year sees changes being made in agricultural production techniques resulting from efforts by farmers to produce food and fiber to an ever increasing world population. Along with greater demands for agricultural products there is an increasing pressure on the producers to adjust to increases in fuel and other costs. One of the easiest ways to reduce fuel costs is for farmers to find ways to reduce tillage of the soil. Such approaches, which may be called “conservation agriculture,” can have benefits for the farmer and the environment. Conservation agriculture is based on farming techniques that keep a cover crop on the ground at all times, disturb the soil at a minimum, and provide for crop rotations. For more, see Any changes in agriculture affect beekeeping operations in the area. The lessened plowing of fields should immediately benefit many native bees that nest in the soil. These bees lose habitat through industrial agricultural practices that destroy their nest along field margins. Today’s photo shows soybeans being planted into unbroken soil covered in annual grasses. In the distance, a winter wheat field is harvested in the morning and planted the same afternoon without tilling the soil. The grasses and competing crop weeds are killed by an application of herbicides. This planting technique reduces fuel usage, saves ground water, and helps conserve organic matter in the soil, increasing tilth. No-till planting lessens soil erosion, and sometimes reduces fertilizer use. Since weeds spring from broken ground, no-till planting reduces the germination of weed seeds.

A New York Times piece,, describes how no-till planting may lessens the release of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas. Agriculture accounts for the release of a considerable amount of the greenhouse gases that are affecting the world’s climate. All forms of agriculture, including beekeeping, are looking for management practices that are more sustainable and less damaging to the environment. All stand to benefit from careful planting.

1 comment:

  1. They do no-till out here too.. and once the crop is a few inches high.. they go around and spray herbicides to kill off the weeds. This no till style is used mostly with GMO crops for conventional farming. I don't think it will have a positive impact on the bees when they douse the fields with chemicals later, but it will lessen top soil erosion and lessen fossil fuel usage by taking tilling out of the process. They still are heavily dependent on chemicals.

    Not a fan of it. No till does not mean healthier or less dangerous. As someone who has seen how those chemicals can cause immediate damage even when a neighboring farmer sprays (my sister having to be air lifted out after they sprayed.. my Mom's dog having seizures).. it really drives home the point.