The history of Georgia is closely interlaced with the history of American rural and farmland development. In 1980, one of this state's farmers went on to become the President of the United States: Jimmy Carter. Recently, however, agriculture has been severely challenged in Georgia. With rapid industrialization and growth of the services sector, most of the State's farmers are struggling with declining revenues coupled with significant drought and environmental pressures.
The No-Tillage Assistance Program, funded by the Governor's Office of Energy Resources, is an inventive new project that seeks to provide small landowners the tools for fuel savings, improved soil quality, and technical assistance for tilling their farmland. Administered through the Georgia Soil and Conservation Commission, the program provides sharing of "no-till" drills and tractors to several farmers at reduced prices. It has become very effective in assisting small landowners in saving fuel and promoting soil conservation and has brought together a number of federal, state, and local authorities.
The "no-tillage" process is a drastic improvement over the conventional tillage method, which is a time-consuming, fuel-intensive and costly operation. By allowing the farmer to slit the soil, deposit and cover seeds in one round, it reduces the number of trips to the farm from four or five to a single trip. This saves time and fuel dollars, and improves soil conservation. However, it is virtually impossible for the average family to purchase this expensive no-till equipment (each unit costs $30,000). The No-Tillage Assistance Program allows farmers shared access to this equipment for a nominal fee. Additionally, it provides trained operators for the equipment and technical assistance to farmers in planning crops and minimizing soil erosion.
So far, the program has assisted 2,045 Georgia farmers and saved 223,152 gallons of fuel compared to conventional methods. An added benefit of the program has also been the reduction of farmers' reliance on commercial fertilizers as the no-till method promotes the use of natural nitrogen found in plants.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has had a federal cost-share program available to farmers for several years. However, this program has not proved effective as it neither substantially subsidizes no-till equipment nor provides any ground assistance to farmers. Georgia's initiative complements this venture by providing equipment and trained operators and allowing farmers to partake in cost-share. It subsidizes farmers while promoting environmental conservation.
With strong political support from both Houses of Georgia General Assembly, the No Tillage program stands as a successful role model for communities looking to assist farmers, save fossil fuels, and prevent soil erosion. Already, eight states have sent representatives to learn more about this innovative program. Several states are promoting conservation tillage in some form, and South Carolina, Florida, and Alabama are developing programs based on Georgia's format. The No-Tillage Program's emphasis on the well-being and economic stability of the small landowner is a positive step in the preservation of one of America's oldest institutions: the family farm.