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Handbook Offers How-To and Tools for Reduced Tillage

If you’re interested in improving your farm’s soil health, reduced tillage may be the answer.

Reduced tillage practices can minimize soil disturbance by using less intensity, going shallower, and restricting the width or tilled-area. They can be applied to a bed, within a field or across the whole farm. The practices can take many forms, which are highlighted in a new handbook available at no charge from Cornell Cooperative Extension and partners.

The basis of this resource came from a popular field day event this summer at Cornell’s Willsboro Research Farm in Willsboro, NY. Presentations given during the event are included in the handbook, including a section from the Cornell Small Farms Program’s own Ryan Maher.

“The field day was a way to demonstrate reduced tillage tools and think through the barriers organic growers face in adopting alternative practices,” Ryan said. “Some of the common themes that emerged were weeds, residue interference, weeds, managing cover crops, and more about weeds.”

Ryan manages our Reduced Tillage Project, and during the field day he presented on zone tillage systems. This practice targets disturbance to the planting row and reduces tilled area by at least 50 percent when compared to conventional tillage.

A farm can successfully adopt zone tillage by making system-level changes: selecting specific crops in a rotation, planning cover crop management, and acquiring and/or modifying tools that work in moderate to high residue conditions.

“One of the biggest challenges going forward, particularly with zone tillage, is fitting these approaches to the scale of the operation and considering the rotations and the diversity of crops on organic vegetable farms,” Ryan explained. “We have found really interesting results testing different cover crop mixes and some good, practical lessons on tools, all of which I think growers can use as they look to adapt zone till to their own operation.”

Learn more about ongoing research results and the considerations for trialing zone-till practices on your farm in Ryan’s section of the handbook on zone tillage.

In the full handbook you can learn about other practices, such as: managing weeds in small-seeded crops, by Bryan Brown of the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program; and weed seedbank management, by John Wallace of Cornell University Specialty Crops Systems.

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