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Do we really need to turn the soil?

1 Summary

Tilling is a practice which turns the soil to remove weeds, break compacted soil and prepare the soil for seeding. However, this practice causes damage to the soil system, which results in further problems on a farm. The improvement in resource use and crop productivity from converting from tillage to no-till is comprehensively documented, however, the practice is still continued. Perhaps this is because farmers don’t know how tillage interacts with the soil system. This paper explains how tillage causes organic material loss, soil biology death, diseases and pests, soil structure destruction and weeds. The author believes that once these interactions are understood, it will be an obvious need to look for better solutions. Each farm needs its own study for an appropriate solution, but the best general concepts are to not disturb the soil, and add a lot of organic matter.

2 Introduction

“Tilling is the practice of digging up, turning over, or otherwise agitating the soil with mechanical tools—typically a plow or disc” [1]. Tilling is typically used for removing weeds, increase infiltration, putting crop residue back in soil and aeration. It is an easy, yet expensive solution for preparing the land.

However, these benefits come at a high cost of soil erosion, pests and disease, soil compaction and many others, which form a vicious cycle with tilling [2].

It is well known that converting to no-till can improve productivity and efficiency of all resources, especially water [M3]. In fact, it has even been demonstrated that no-till can produce higher yields in Jordan [4]. But still many farmers continue to use conventional tillage. Perhaps it is because they don’t know the source of the problems which they use tillage to try to solve. Rather than trying to demonstrate the benefits of converting to no-till, this paper focuses on clarifying what happens to the soil system when tillage is used. Once the system is understood, the author believes it will be an obvious choice to look for an alternative solution which suits the farmer.

There are three mains types of tillage [5]:

  • Conventional tillage – tilling enters deep into the soil and does significant turning

  • Conservation tillage – tilling tries to minimize disturbance to a shallow depth