No-till or reduced till, refers to the practice of establishing a crop with minor soil disturbance. There are many long-term benefits from no-till practices, including:

  • decreased fossil fuel consumption
  • reduced labour
  • equal or better yields (after transition)
  • improving soil structure
  • increasing soil organic matter
  • reducing soil compaction
  • limit soil loss by wind or erosion
  • increasing soil moisture content
  • better crop root exploration
  • maintaining beneficial insect populations
  • enhancing biodiversity

Essentially, no-till production refers to seeding the crop directly into the ground, leaving soil and plant residues undisturbed.  By leaving the plant residue the organic content of the soil will naturally increase.  Keeping residue will also help to prevent soil erosion.  The goal is to keep enough residue so that the new crop is able to establish, but erosion is controlled.  Generally, 60-70% groundcover is needed to prevent erosion and retain soil moisture.

No–till seeders are used to cut a slit in the soil where the seed is deposited, a wheel then packs the soil around the seed. There is some risk of weed influx during the transition to no-till practices. For best results, cover crops and some pesticides may be needed to control weeds.

Reducing tillage can have similar benefits as no-till, and include less invasive practices such as:

  • Timing of tillage—fall to spring
  • Using less destructive tillage implements—chisel plough instead of moldboard plough to retain more plant residue
  • Less tillage—one pass instead of two

There are many factors involved in the decision to reduce or eliminate tillage. Depending on things like your farm’s soil type and drainage, crop requirements, reducing tillage may or may not be viable for you. For more advice regarding reduced tillage, and whether it will work for you, can be found by getting in touch with the extension specialists at Perennia.

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