As meetings go, the Southern Conservation Tillage Systems Conference will never rival the Beltwide Cotton Conferences or the soybean and corn growers' Commodity Classic in size.

Conservation Tillage Conference participants held their recent annual get-together at Clemson University's Pee Dee Research and Education Center near Florence, S.C. The Beltwide alternates between New Orleans and San Antonio with an occasional visit to Nashville's much-maligned Opryland Hotel. The last Commodity Classic was in Austin, Texas.

The Beltwide has attracted as many as 5,000 attendees and the Commodity Classic more than that; the Conservation Tillage Conference brings in a fraction of those. But what the SCTSC lacks in numbers, it more than makes up for in fervor.

Persons attending the Beltwide or the Commodity Classic may be cotton or corn and soybean farmers and researchers by vocation; those attending the Conservation Tillage Conference are more like true believers at a camp meeting.

John Hassell, executive director of the Conservation Technology Information Center in West Lafayette, Ind., touched on that aspect when he gave the keynote address during the SCTSC's opening session June 28.

Calling for a revival of the conservation ethic by all who work in the area, Hassell said, “We need to remember that conservation is more than just a word — it's a way of life — and it's forever.”

The Southern Conservation Tillage Conference began in Griffin, Ga., in 1978. That was before the Milan, Tenn., No-Till Field Day or the invention of Roundup Ready crops.

Throughout its 27-year history, the conference has given scientists, educators, farmers and private industry professionals the opportunity to learn more about the latest technologies and practices associated with conservation tillage systems.

No-till and strip-till planting practices and tools that have become standard across the Mid-South and Southeast were first talked about at the Southern Conservation Tillage Conference in the early 1980s.

No-till work reported at the conference made it possible for farmers with highly erodible lands to continue farming when Congress decreed that those could no longer be planted with conventional tillage practices.

In later years, conference participants were among the first to hear about the then-new Roundup Ready technology in conservation tillage farming and ultra-narrow-row cotton production systems made possible by no-till.

Like other agricultural institutions, the conference is continuing to evolve. This year's conference featured presentations on precision farming applications in no-till farming, including one on potential energy savings with variable depth tillage. The conference also included several papers on the economics of no-till.

The 2005 conference also ventured out of the South with a paper on conservation tillage corn, cotton and tomato systems in California, delivered by University of California researcher Jeff Mitchell, who noted that the Southern Conference had helped inspire a similar conference in his state.

It's refreshing to watch an event whose participants believe in an idea so strongly they can keep a conference going for 27 years without the support of a nationwide or beltwide organization.