The Brownsville States-Graphic, Thursday, April 22, 2010 — Page 3
How UT Extension & No-Till Farming Transformed Tennessee
UT Extension Celebrates Centennial, Recalls Role in Changing Agriculture As Tennessee farmers gear up for planting season, tilling the ground is a preparation step that many producers have eliminated. “We haven’t plowed a field in 30 years,” says Madison County farmer Burruss Nichols. Nichols grows nearly 500 acres of grain crops in northeast Madison County. Since the 1970s he’s used a farming technique known as No-Till farming, where fields are not plowed between harvest and the next planting, and the seed is basically inserted into the ground. For Nichols the adaptation was all about efficiency. He runs his entire farm with only one employee. “I couldn’t do that without NoTill,” he says. “It saves time and is so much more efficient.” Nichols’ story is not unique. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service more than 70 percent of Tennessee farmers use No-Till practices, making it the conventional “tillage” method of the 21st century. But while No-Till may be considered the norm to many farmers today, that thinking would not have been possible without years of work from UT Extension agents and specialists as well as scientists with UT AgResearch. This year, as UT Extension celebrates its 100th anniversary, many agents still consider the adaptation of No-Till farming as one of the greatest accomplishments of the last century.
“It was just a tremendous step forward as far as agriculture is concerned,” says Ken Goddard, UT Extension Biofuels Specialist and former Henry County Extension Agent. Goddard recalls 1970, his first year to work with UT Extension, when soil erosion was ruining many farms in West Tennessee, which was one of the worst spots in the country for erosion. “West Tennessee was used as a classic bad example,” says UT AgResearch Professor Dr. Don Tyler. “Years of over-tilling had really taken it’s toll on the land, and it was hurting farm production.” At the time, the average rate of erosion for cropland in Tennessee was 40 tons of soil per acre per year. Despite the need for new farming methods, Tyler and Goddard both recall how the concept of No-Till production was a tough sale. “People grew up planting crops a certain way,” says Goddard, “that’s just what they knew. It was the method they were familiar with.” Hundreds of years of tradition made the promotion of the new technique difficult for UT Extension agents. But they kept at it, helped by early adapters, like Weakley County farmer Junior Simmons. Simmons started experimenting with forms of conservation tillage in the 1960s. He worked with agents who often used his farm as an example of how No-Till production worked.
“People said that sure did look like a mess,” Simmons says with a grin as he recalls the first time neighboring farmers saw his No-Till plantings, “but later they were wishing they had corn like that.” “It took everybody promoting No-Till,” says Goddard. Perhaps the biggest promotion for NoTill, both then and now, is the Milan NoTill Field Day, held every other year at the AgResearch and Education Center at Milan. The first field day was in 1981, and soon after, no-till acres in Tennessee started to increase. This year the event takes place on July 22. But UT Extension agents were dedicated to this technique much earlier. Retired Extension Cotton Specialist Dr. Paulus Shelby recalls writing his graduate thesis on the subject of No-Till back in 1961, 20 years before the first field day. “The adaptation of No-Till was so gradual,” Shelby recalls. “Like any new idea we heard, ‘That will never work,’ but I think the research we did is finally what sold everyone. Once equipment and seed technology caught up with the research, we saw No-Till acres boom, but the research came first.” Nearly 50 years after writing his graduate thesis, Shelby along with other current and former Extension agents can see how their work has had a part in transforming Tennessee. The Volunteer State is considered a leader in no-till farming,
and the benefits of its implementation range from a drastic increase in agricultural efficiency (the average farmer provides food and fiber for nearly 130 people compared to 25 in 1960) to cleaner air and water. The state’s soil erosion levels have decreased by approximately 80 percent. It’s no wonder that many agents are still so passionate about it. “No-Till just makes sense,” says Goddard. “It’s probably the most significant program that’s been developed, with everyone playing a role.” When the 30th Milan No-Till Field Day rolls around this July, thousands of producers from across the region will flock to the AgResearch and Education Center at Milan. Almost all will be familiar with no-till, which is a testament to how the past work of UT Extension agents changed Tennessee agriculture. But on that day the specialists and agents on hand will be focused on the future, and how new research can help Tennessee farmers for the next 100 years.
Continued from Page 1 everything he does, but he is a very good businessman. This year, it’s going to start hurting.” Naifeh noted that the state would be pulling out more funds from its “Rainy Day fund.” Currently, there is $800 million left. The state will plan to take out $300 million to handle the budget for this year as well as set itself up for a fair condition next budget year. Naifeh wanted everyone to know, that when the budget closes, “we are going to pass budget.” While Naifeh expressed that he agreed with the idea of using more rainy day funds, he actually wished that more could be used, especially given the economic condition of the state. “It’s raining, snow-
ing, lighting, thundering, sleeting, hailing, doing just about every type of bad weather you can imagine,” Naifeh said on using more money from the rainy day fund. Naifeh also discussed a few bills that would be in discussion, but probably wouldn’t pass; including removing a tax cap on “big ticket items” likes cars and boats. One bill that was proposed that could pass is “coverage fee” from hospitals where the hospitals would tax 3.25 percent of their gross revenue. Money from that tax would be matched with the federal government, two to one, Naifeh said. Patients wouldn’t pay for it, directly at least, but it’s still currently unclear as who pays for the tax, Naifeh said. This Friday, April 26, the Chamber will host Senator Delores Grisham.
March Unemployment Rate 10.6 Percent Tennessee Commissioner of Labor & Workforce Development James Neeley announced today Tennessee’s unemployment rate for March was 10.6 percent, down onetenth of a percentage point from the February rate of 10.7 percent. The March rate last year was 10.1 percent. The national unemployment rate for March 2010 was 9.7 percent, unchanged from the February rate of 9.7 percent. “Modest employment growth occurred again in March,” reported Labor Commissioner James Neeley. “We’ll need sustained growth to recover from the unprecedented losses during this recession.” According to the monthly Household Survey, this is the largest monthly increase in the labor force (+9,700) since October 2005. Major Changes in Estimated Nonagricultural Employment February 2010 to March 2010 According to the Business Survey, 6,600 job gains occurred in leisure and hospitality; 5,200 in mining and construction; 4,800 in trade, transportation and utilities; and 4,700 in administrative, support, and waste services. Major employment decreases occurred in financial activities, down by 1,000; information declined by 700 jobs; and professional, scientific, and technical services decreased by 400. Major Changes in Estimated Nonagricultural Employment March 2009 to March 2010 Year-over-year increases occurred in educational and health services, up by 12,300; administrative, support, and waste services gained 3,200; and retail trade was up by 1,200. Year-over-year decreases occurred in manufacturing, down by 17,700; trade, transportation, and utilities lost 15,200; and mining and construction decreased by 10,700.