When Wayne Lindwall began promoting conservation tillage in the early 1970s, he had his doubts the idea would ever take root. Now, more than 70 per cent of seeded land in Western Canada is under some form of conservation tillage – a testament to Lindwall, his research team at Agriculture Canada, and the producers who traded in their discs and ploughs for no-till drills and air seeders.
“It’s not revolutionary now, but it was back then,” said Lindwall at the Southern Ag Advantage conference here in December. “In Canada, adoption of conservation tillage technology was very slow, which seems remarkable when you look out on the fields today and see the dramatic increase in such practices in the last 10 to 15 years.”
Tillage that retains at least 30 per cent of crop residue and involves minimal tillage is called conservation tillage, said Lindwall. No-till, however, involves direct seeding, avoids mechanical tillage, and aims to keep soil disturbance to a minimum.
“Conventional is no longer conventional,” said Lindwall. Between 1991 and 2006, the total area using conventional tillage in Canada dropped by 60 per cent, according to Statistics Canada. During that same period, the proportion of land using no-till practices increased from seven per cent to 46 per cent.
“The Prairies are the leaders in no-till, with 60 per cent adoption in Saskatchewan, 48 per cent in Alberta and 21 per cent in Manitoba,” said Lindwall.
On a global scale, Canada ranks fourth in no-till acreage behind the United States, Brazil and Argentina. However, no-till is practiced on 46 per cent of cultivated land in Canada, compared to only 22 per cent in the U. S.
“Unfortunately, some of the countries who need it most, like China, are unable to do it due to competition for the crop residues, lack of technology and tradition,” said Lindwall.