“T” is for Tillage (Conservational)

When we think of tilling fields, we think of tractors churning up the soil, but that isn’t always the case. Conservational tillage practices offer environmentally and sustainably friendly solutions to tilling fields and preparing them for new crops.

The traditional method of tilling involves going over the entire surface area of a field with a machine that turns up the soil, aerating it. The past year’s crop is completely removed, and the field is a clean slate for planting. With conservational tillage, some of the previous year’s crop residue (like corn stalks or wheat stubble) are intentional left behind. These residues help prevent soil erosion and water runoff. To be considered conservational tillage, at least 30% of the soil surface must be covered with residue, although some methods may leave up to 70% of the fields covered. (Conservation Practices)

What are the benefits to this method of tillage?

  • Reduces Costs: Traditional tilling requires a lot of time on a tractor, which in turn requires a lot of money spent on gas. Conservational tilling minimizes labor costs by minimizing the amount of labor needed to prepare a field. Money is saved on labor costs and on fuel.
  • Improves Soil Quality: Conservational tilling promotes the clumping of soil which makes it easier for plants to establish roots. This helps minimize compaction in the soil.
  • Increases Organic Matter: New research shows that the more a soil is tilled, the more carbon it releases into the air, which means less carbon is available to grow future crops.
  • Reduces Soil Erosion: Crop residues on the soil reduce erosion by water and wind. Soil erosion has been reduced by up to 90%, depending on conditions, when protected with crop residues.
  • Improves Air Quality: Conservational tillage improves our air quality in numerous ways. It minimizes the amount of dust in the air by minimized soil and wind erosion, it reduces fossil fuel emissions from tractors, and reduces the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

(Conservation Tech Information Center)

If this method of tilling crops peaks your interest, Houston is a wonderful place to be. Houston has been home to many conferences on tilling, like with the National Conservation Tillage Cotton and Rice Conference held in both 2003 and 2004.