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Reduced Tillage in Vegetables

DID YOU MISS OUR SUMMER 2017 FIELD DAY? “Tools and Tactics for Organic Vegetables at Any Scale” in Freeville, NY on August 14, 2017. GO HERE to learn more!

What is reduced tillage?


Mulching with straw to suppress weeds.

Reduced tillage practices minimize soil disturbance with targeted and appropriate tillage based on farm and field goals. Reduced tillage means a decreased reliance on inversion tillage. It means less intensity. Shallower depth. Less area disturbed, either in the bed, field or across the farm. It also means less frequent tillage, either in a succession planting or finding opportunities for land to rest for a year or more.

Strip tillage with cover crops left in place.

Practices take many forms. They may be farm, rotation or crop-specific and often maintain the benefits of some tillage for controlling weeds, making a fine seed bed or incorporating amendments and residues. They may be applied at the farm scale and be system-wide, or only fit in a part of the rotation. How they take shape varies based on farm size and field characteristics, available equipment and materials, skills and labor.


Reduced Tillage in Organic

Yeomans NY

Strip tillage targets primary tillage to the planting zone.

Many organic vegetable growers rely on intensive tillage in their production system. Tillage can be a critical tool for controlling weeds, preparing seed beds, managing residues and incorporating nutrients. But intensive and repeated tillage can also be detrimental to long-term soil health. Reduced tillage practices, along with rotations, cover crops, and amendments, are a way to advance vegetable farms towards greater sustainability. How can reduced tillage practices help organic growers build better soils? Improve water use? Improve labor and fuel use efficiency? And how can it help ensure long-term productivity?

controlled traffic

Permanent beds can reduce compaction and  help reduce tillage.

Our current work is focused on helping organic vegetable growers develop successful reduced tillage methods that contribute to managing weeds, cover crops, and soil fertility. We are working across a range of farm scales, from strip tillage systems to small-scale permanent beds. We are a collaboration among Cornell University in Ithaca and Long Island, the University of Maine, and Michigan State University, partnering with extension services and a team of experienced growers.