Tillage and No-Till Systems

panorama of tillage systems

Tillage Systems Descriptions

There are a variety of tillage systems available for crop production.  While tillage operations are performed for various reasons, producers must evaluate the need for each and every field operation conducted in order to improve profitability.  In addition, the effects of the tillage operations on the soil system and the environment must be considered. More information is available on the following tillage systems:

Soil & Water Management: Tillage Concepts

Tillage of the soil has been used to prepare a seedbed, kill weeds, incorporate nutrients, and manage crop residues. The goal of the tillage system has been to provide a proper environment for seed germination and root growth for crop production.

Throughout the years, tillage systems have changed as new technologies have become available and the costs of fuel and labor increased. With adoption of reduced tillage systems, many producers are realizing the negative effects of tillage as they see the soil and water conservation benefits of leaving the residue on the soil surface. No-till crop production systems leave the most residue and often prove to be the most profitable methods of crop production.

tillage photo

Tillage breaks up soil structure and destroys residue.

With no-till, the improved soil structure and moisture conserving residue cover makes more water available for crop production by improving infiltration and decreasing evaporation from the soil surface.

  • The tilled plot on the left has little soil structure, resulting in problems with soil crusting and crop emergence.
  • The no-till plot on the right has a protective layer of residue which absorbs raindrop impact and reduces evaporation from the soil surface.
  • The tillage has beat down the soil elevation on the left, compared to the no-till surface on the right, reducing the pore spaces in the soil profile.

Related Articles

Figure 1. Standing residue captures snow across this no-till field, reducing blowing snow and erosion. (Photos by Paul Jasa)

Leave the Stubble to Protect the Soil November 16, 2018

No-till November, a USDA NRCS campaign, encourages farmers to park their tillage implements this fall, in favor of keeping crop residue on the soil surface. Using no-till as a system reduces erosion, runoff, and soil moisture evaporation.

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Southeast Nebraska Corn Growers Field Day Aug. 29 August 22, 2018

Compare performance of corn hybrids from 11 companies in the field, and hear a presentation on cover crops with no-till planting equipment and the effects of weed control.

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Video of blowing soil

Videos Capture Value of No-till in Saving Soil Despite High Winds May 4, 2018

Videos comparing two southeast Nebraska fields facing high wind conditions Monday afternoon demonstrate the effect of tillage practices on soil loss.

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Consider No-till Seeding Alfalfa This Year April 6, 2018

No-till seeding alfalfa can help preserve crop residue on the soil surface, reduce soil erosion, limit weed seeds on the soil surface, and perhaps most importantly this year, help conserve soil moisture.

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Soybean seedlings in no-till field
Figure 1. With almost 100% residue cover, this soil surface is protected from raindrop impact, greatly reducing erosion and crusting. The residue will also reduce evaporation by keeping the sun and wind off the soil surface. (Photos by Paul Jasa)

Building Resilient Soil Systems using Residue, No-till, and Cover Crops March 29, 2018

Crop residue, cover crops, and no-till farming practices can provide a positive buffering effect to changes in climate and extreme weather events. Together they can help keep more water and soil on-farm and contribute to improved soil health.

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