Tillage refers to the preparation of soil for agricultural production mainly through the application of mechanical or human-powered tools to dig, stir, or overturn soil.
Though tillage has its own benefits to the soil, such as improving aeration and faster warming of the soil, in the long run, it does more harm than good.
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Commercial plowing techniques, when applied over time, loosen the soil, leaving it bare and devoid of any organic matter. Deep plowing is one of the most significant contributors to soil degradation, eventually leading to loss of soil fertility.
No-till farming techniques often entail zero or minimal disturbance to the soil, unlike conventional plowing. This technique involves digging only where the seeds are to be sowed.
However, narrow tilling can be done between seasons to incorporate manure, compost, or lime to balance soil acidity. This article covers the different aspects of organic no-till farming with direct comparison to traditional plowing methods.
Soil health is determined by the level of activity of microorganisms such as fungi and bacteria which are critical in breaking down nutrients that later become available to plants.
Undisturbed soil allows these beneficial micro-organisms to thrive while also preventing the loss of carbon, thus limiting the greenhouse effect.
The accumulation of organic matter improves the soil’s internal structure, enabling it to support more crops on the portion of land.
Organic no-till methods essentially leave the soil unperturbed, unlike plowing which turns over the top layers leaving the soil bare and exposed to the elements.
Management of weeds under the organic no-till application can be achieved using a variety of methods.
Some of the common methods include mulching or the use of cover crops to suppress weed development.
However, where cover crops are used, they need to be crimped, chopped, and rolled to ensure the newly planted crops get adequate nutrients, light, and water.
Other alternatives include soil solarization which entails raising the soil temperature to levels that are unbearable for most soil-borne pathogens.
While solarization is effective against nematodes, insects, mites, and weeds, it also destroys beneficial fungi and bacteria; farmers who employ this method should later re-introduce these beneficial microorganisms to improve soil health.
Effect on Costs, Water Retention, and Yield
While no-till methods are beneficial to the soil in many ways, it is also important to examine how farmers gain from this practice.
Plowing gained popularity among farmers because it enabled farm owners to sow more seeds while keeping weeds at bay.
However, from a farmer’s perspective, conventional tillage is costly due to the numerous steps undertaken before seeds are sown.
Zero tillage allows farmers to skip the plowing and harrowing procedures, thus saving on time, fuel, and labor resources compared to tillage methods.
Additionally, no-till methods improve the water absorption and retention capacity of the soil, leading to better yields, especially during the dry seasons.
Verdict On No-Till Farming
Zero tillage practices, when applied consistently over time, contribute to the intactness of soil structure and maximum retention of surface crop residue.
The retention of cover crop residue coupled with the improved soil structure translates to enhanced water filtration, which in turn reduces runoff, ultimately leading to minimized soil erosion.
There’s also the case of organic no-till being more environmentally friendly compared to traditional tillage methods with regards to the greenhouse effect.
Tillage contributes to the discharge of soil carbon into the air – a problem that can be minimized by adopting zero-till farming.