What is conservation tillage and is it right for you?

Conservation in the agricultural industry is at an all-time high in recent years, with significant efforts being made to limit the impact of farming on the environment. These efforts include embracing organic farming and biodynamic farming, and implementing tillagepractices such as conservation farming which is also known as ‘no-till’ farming.
If you want to look into a more environmentally friendly way of farming, outlined below is an explanation of conservation tillage and its advantages and disadvantages.

What is conservation tillage?
The creation of cultivated land includes tillage, which is a staple of the agricultural industry. Conservation tillage or ‘no-till farming’ is a method of soil cultivation which leaves the residue of last year’s crops (such as corn stalks or wheat husks) on the fields before, during and after the planting of the upcoming year’s crops. It is a popular method for  farmers who want to embrace a more natural approach to the industry.
This form of tillage is especially useful for regions that are prone to soil erosion. In some areas where this problem is rampant, it has become more common than other forms of tillage on arable land. Conservation tillage methods include no-till, strip-till, ridge-till and mulch-till.
  • No-till farming is the method of leaving mulch or crop residue on the surface of the soil before, during and after the planting period. Soil disturbance is kept to a minimum and many farmers combiner no-till farming with a more organic approach, such as natural herbicides and fertilisers.
  • Ridge-till farming is a method which involves scalping and planting on ridges built during cultivation of last year’s crops. It does involve the use of a herbicide or fertiliser but farmers often opt for an organic option. Most of the weeds and fertiliser are moved into the middle of the row, with clean and smooth surface areas for plants to take root on.
  • Mulch-till farming is a method similar to no-till farming in that the residue of previous crops is  left on the surface of the soil before, during and after the planting process. One difference is that a maximum amount of mulch is left on the surface in order to maintain maximum moisture and regulate the temperature of the soil for good crop wields.
The pros and cons of conservation tillage
Now that you know what conservation tillage is, you can decide whether or not it is right for you. Before you make any decisions about changing your farming methods, you will need to take into account what your own farming needs are. Outlined below are the advantages of conservation tillage.
  • Soil erosion is reduced: One of the major benefits of using conservation tillage, such as no-till farming, on your land, is that soil erosion is reduced. Soil erosion is a major issue faced by farmers and conservation tillage helps to maintain the structure of the soil by using little to no tilling techniques.
  • Water conservation: Because conservation tillage methods leave residue on the soil rather than removing it, the evaporation of soil moisture is decreased and the soil is able to absorb more water. This helps farmers in keeping the amount of water used to water crops relatively low. The amount of irrigation water and rainwater infiltration is also increased.
  • Beneficial insects and soil microbes increase: As the soil fertility increases, so does the health of the overall soil ecology. With reduced disturbance, there is usually an increase in beneficial insects and soil microbes. This helps to support the base of a healthy environment for a wide array of wildlife, as well as the necessary nutrients in the soil.
  • Reduced fuel and equipment costs: Farmers who practice no-till or conservation tillage farming do not have to use their equipment as often, which means that they save on fuel costs and equipment repair expenses. The farming equipment also tends to last longer as it is not used on a daily basis.
  • May not suit every soil type: Conservation tillage may not be successful in certain types of soil, and so you should do research into whether or not your type of soil and climate is conducive to this farming method. You may find that it is ideal for your soil and area, but if it is not then you should consider other organic farming methods.
  • Fungal disease possibilities: Because the crop residues are not fully incorporated into the soil, there is a risk of fungal disease being contracted by crops. The most common solution to this is to rotate crops that are not susceptible to the same diseases. However, this can be difficult for farmers who prefer practising monoculture.
Once you have weighed out the advantages and disadvantages of conservation tillage, you can decide whether it is right for your farm. For those who want to adopt a more eco-friendly way of farming, it is the ideal solution to conventional tillage which can damage the soil and cause a myriad of other environmental concerns.

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