Conservation Tillage

Authored by: Paul W. Unger , Humberto Blanco-Canqui

Handbook of Soil Sciences Resource Management and Environmental Impacts

Print publication date:  November  2011
Online publication date:  November  2011

Print ISBN: 9781439803073
eBook ISBN: 9781439803080
Adobe ISBN:


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“For thousands of years, agriculture and tillage were considered synonymous. It was simply not thought possible to grow crops without first tilling the soil before planting and for weed control” (Triplett and Dick, 2008). Indeed, soil tillage as developed over the centuries permitted farmers to grow more and better crops by loosening and mixing soil and controlling weeds. However, with the introduction of herbicide 2,4-D[(2,4-dichlorophenoxy) acetic acid] in 1942 and continued development of new herbicides since then (Unger et al., 2009), the need to mechanically control weeds has slowly, but greatly, declined. Furthermore, the need to prepare seedbeds by plowing and disking has decreased with the increased adoption of no-tillage (NT) since the 1970s. Originally, the use of the moldboard plow was deemed necessary to produce high crop yields, but such plowing (clean tillage) in many cases accelerated erosion by water and wind, organic matter (OM) oxidation, and land degradation. Because of severe erosion, government conservation compliance regulations were implemented in an effort to reduce erosion on highly erodible lands. To meet these regulations and in an attempt to increase profit, many farmers have switched to using conservation tillage (CS) systems, including NT, during the last half century or so. Conservation tillage now is widely recognized as a best management practice that improves soil productivity, reduces runoff and erosion, protects water quality, and improves environmental quality (Sullivan et al., 2008).

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