The Downside of Soil Tillage
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Tillage the practice of turning over and mixing the soil to incorporate nutrients, crop residues and to kill weeds in the fields. For many years tillage has been the go to soil preparation technique for its soil enhancement properties like,
• lightens the soil
• breaks up clay pans and compacted soils
• oxygenates the soil
• breaks up soil clods
• smooths out planting surface for seeds
But what we have discovered in recent years is that tillage can lead to more problems than it help alleviate.
Studies have shown plow pan or compacted layers forming just beneath the extent of the cultivator blades which can restrict planting rooting depth. If your crops in the field or the garden cannot get their roots deep into the soil they will not do as well. One way to improve rooting into soil is to preserve soil structure as much as you can. Soil structure is essential to plant growth as it provides a perfect environment for roots to grow into. Good soil structure will hold water better but still have good drainage and will be full of organic matter which contains nutrients that the plant can use.
Tillage also can lead to excessive erosion in the soil because is breaks the soil into smaller and smaller particles which can easily be taken away by the wind or water. Erosion had lead to the loss of over 400 billion* dollars of productivity every year under current agriculture practices. With soil formation being a very slow process around .5 tons/acre/year it cannot keep up with the current loss of soil due to soil tillage practices.
Finally tillage is very expensive to do. It requires a large output of money for tractors, tillage equipment, and finally fuel to power those vehicles. This being done across the world on a annual and semi annual basis is a very expensive and unnecessary step in food production.
So if you are landowner or gardener please look into other ways of preparing soil for planting like no-till or mulch till. Getting away from tillage will save you time, money, and wear and tear on equipment.
University of MN- Soil Compaction: Causes, effects and control