What is Reduced Tillage?
Reduced tillage practices minimize soil disturbance with targeted and appropriate soil disturbance based on farm goals. Reduced tillage means a decreased reliance on inversion tillage. It means less intensity, shallower depth, and less area disturbed, either in the bed, field or across the farm. It can also mean less frequent tillage, like finding opportunities in a rotation for land to rest for a year or more.
Practices take many forms. They may be system-wide, applied across the whole farm, or only fit in a part of the rotation for specific crops. They often maintain the benefits of some tillage for managing weeds, making a better seed bed or incorporating residues. How they take shape on a farm can depend on farm size and soil characteristics, access to equipment or materials, farm skill sets, and labor availability.
Reduced Tillage in Organic
Many organically-managed farms rely on intensive tillage. It can be a critical tool for controlling weeds, managing residues and killing cover crops. But intensive and repeated tillage is also be detrimental to long-term soil health. Reduced tillage practices, combined with crop rotations, cover crops, and soil amendments, can move vegetable farms towards greater sustainability. What practices can help organic growers build better soils? Improve labor and fuel use efficiency? And ensure long-term profitability?
Our current work is focused on developing successful organic reduced tillage methods to manage weeds, integrate cover crops, and build soil productivity. We are working across scales, from strip tillage systems to permanent beds and tarping. 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.