ECM for Cropped Environments - Tillage Management

Tillage Management:

A tillage system that buries residue and pulverizes soil leads to high erosion risk. A tillage system that preserves surface residue and minimizes soil disturbance is desirable to reduce soil erosion. Tillage practices can be divided into 'conventional' and 'conservation' tillage. Conventional tillage creates more soil disturbance and mixing, while conservation tillage reduces soil disturbance to a minimum and keeps more residue from the previous crop at the soil surface. Conventional tillage operations use implements to mix or disturb the soil extensively, burying plant residue in the process. This leaves a rough surface that is then disked smooth to allow for better planting. Conservation tillage leaves 30% or more of the soil surface covered with plant residue, thus the degree of soil mixing is less than the conventional tillage system. In the photos below, discing and chisel plows bury some of the residue compared to no-till surface. Removing some of the residue by discing or chisel plowing increases the area of soil exposed to erosion (see photographs below).

A moldboard plow, part of a conventional tillage system, significantly incorporates and buries residue and leaves a rough soil surface. Image by M. Mamo

Moldboard plow. Image by M. Mamo



In the above picture, the conventional tillage system not only buries residue but also creates large rough surfaces. How does this affect soil erosion from wind and water?

Looks Good! The soil completely unprotected once residues are buried by moldboard plowing. If the rainfall is not long and intense, water will accumulate in between the rough surfaces. However, under long and intense rainfall, rainfall drop impact shatters soil particles creating splash erosion as well as crusting the soil. Crusting makes the soil more susceptible to water erosion (reduce water infiltration) and wind erosion (reduced aggregation).

Discing Image by M. Mamo

Chisel plow Image by M. Mamo