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Sharing the Differences in Tilled and No-Till Soils

Ohio Agronomist Mark Scarpitti in his airplaneOn a sunny spring day in April, Ohio State Agronomist Mark Scarpitti flew his lovely Italian passenger over the fields of Fairfield County in his Piper Arrow 200 airplane, giving her an eagle’s eye view of no-till farming’s impact on drainage. Signora Sandra Corsi, a consultant for the World Bank, snapped photos as Scarpitti pointed out the ponding on conventionally tilled fields verses the dry no-till fields after the prior day’s three inch rain.  A few weeks later, Mr. Scarpitti would simulate this aerial show-and-tell for Corsi and her colleagues at the World Bank headquarters in Washington D.C.

Signora Corsi’s visit came to pass as a result of an e-mail Scarpitti received a few weeks earlier from Signore Maurizio Guadagni, a Senior Rural Development Specialist at the World Bank.  Sig. Guadagni explained he’d just watched a YouTube video of Mr. Scarpitti demonstrating differences between tilled and no-till soil, inviting him to present his demo personally at a workshop scheduled for May 6 at the World Bank headquarters in Washington DC.  Flattered that Sig. Guadagni found the shaky, low quality video of interest, Mr. Scarpitti suggested that one of the national soil health experts might be preferable for this esteemed audience.  Sig. Guadagni insisted that Mr. Scarpitti would be the man for the job.

As part of its’ Climate Smart Agriculture program, the World Bank is educating its’ staff about soil, which they consider a key element to managing and mitigating climate change.  Mr. Scarpitti would be one of four presenters at a workshop which would include Dr. Erick Fernandez,World Bank Adviser of Agriculture and Rural Development (ARD), Signora Sandra Corsi and Sig. Guadagni.    

Ohio Agronomist Mark Scarpitti examines soil moistureOn the morning of May 6, Mr. Scarpitti, with his soil cutters, glass pans, tubes, and lumps of soil in tow, entered the World Bank lobby.  His hosts ensured swift clearance for Mr. Scarpitti and his unusual equipment. As the presenters delivered their portions of the workshop, Mr. Scarpitti observed the audience to gauge their interest and understanding of the topic.  When Mr. Scarpitti began his demonstration, he invited the audience to come closer for a good look.  The 40 economists, a multinational bunch unfamiliar with soil, watched simulated rain water run off the hard, dense, tilled soil while it percolated through the porous, fluffy, no-till soil.  To add realism, Mr. Scarpitti sprinkled colored sugar on the soil samples to simulate fertilizer, tinting the water run-off from the tilled sample green while the water that filtered through the no-till soil remained clear. Sig. Guadagnis’ assessment of Mr. Scarpittis’ presentation skills proved spot on, saying in a message to Mr. Scarpitti’s supervisor, “It was a very well attended event, with strong and active participation. Mark's practical demonstration made a clear difference and set a very positive tone to the whole event. One workshop participant stopped me in the corridor afterwards to say how much he enjoyed the demonstration.”

As fate would have it, as Mr. Scarpitti dazzled his World Bank audience, a few blocks away, the White House released the Third U.S. National Climate Assessment. The Assessment states, “Soil conservation practices will therefore be an important element of agricultural adaptation to climate change.”[i]  The use of no-till in agriculture has a long history in the United States and has proven to be one of the most effective soil conservation practices in existence. Historically, farmers adopted this practice to reduce soil erosion.  Today, the increased permeability of the soil, the soil’s water holding capacity, the soil’s carbon sequestering ability, and the organic matter content of the soil are just as important to improving agricultural productivity and mitigating climate change as is no-till soil’s resistance to erosion.

Reflecting on his visit,  Mr. Scarpitti remarked on how welcome his World Bank hosts made him feel and how, “This trip has expanded my world view and appreciation for the role that no-till cropping systems and cover crops have in carbon sequestration, improving the quality of life across the world, and reducing world hunger/poverty.”  At the end of May Mr. Scarpitti will hang up his agronomist hat after 32 years of service in SCS/NRCS.  He hopes to continue serving global population, perhaps in part on behalf of the World Bank. 



[i]Pg. 160, Third U.S. National Climate Assessment, http://www.whitehouse.gov/climate-change