Tillage: Advantages and Disadvantages

Producers must consider the advantage and disadvantages of a tillage system before changing systems.  The most important advantage of conservation tillage systems is significantly less soil erosion due to wind and water.  Other advantages include reduced fuel and labor requirements.  However, increased reliance may be placed on herbicides with some conservation tillage systems.  The herbicide labels do not change the recommended rates based on tillage system, but tillage may not be an option for weed control in some tillage systems.

Table 1. Advantages and Disadvantages of Selected Tillage Systems
System Major advantages Major disadvantages
Plow Suited for poorly drained soils. Excellent incorporation. Well-tilled seedbed. Major soil erosion. High soil moisture loss. Timeliness considerations. Highest fuel and labor costs.
Chisel Less winter wind erosion from roughened surface. Well adapted to poorly drained soils. Good incorporation. Little erosion control. High soil moisture loss. Shredding may be needed for residue flow. Medium fuel and labor requirements.
Disk Less erosion with more residue. Well adapted for well-drained soils. Good incorporation. Little erosion control with more operations. High soil moisture loss. Destroys soil structure. Compacts wet soil.
Ridge Plant Excellent for furrow irrigation or poorly drained soils. Ridges warm up and dry out quickly. Well suited for organic production. No incorporation. Must be annual row crops. Wheel spacing and other machinery modifications may be needed. Creating and maintaining ridges.
Strip-till Tilled residue-free strip warms quickly. Injection of nutrients into row area. Well suited for poorly drained soils. Cost of preplant operation. Strips may dry too much, crust, or erode without residue. Not suited for drilled crops. Timeliness in wet falls. Possible RTK guidance costs
No-till Excellent erosion control. Soil moisture conservation. Minimum fuel and labor costs. Builds soil structure and health. No incorporation. Increased dependence on herbicides. Slow soil warming on poorly drained soils.