Chapter 5

Soil Tillage in Organic Farming Systems

(book excerpts)

Organic farmers share many of the same goals for building soil organic matter, fertility, and the capacity for supporting soil biological activity and productivity as conventional farmers. In organic farming this is achieved through integrated systems such as crop rotations, cover crops, and the incorporation or mixing of crop residues and organic amendments (e.g., manure, compost) as needed. The dilemma for organic farmers is that these approaches for increasing soil organic matter also require tillage. Specifically, tillage is required 1) to eliminate perennial legumes or winter annual cover crops before planting annual crops, 2) to incorporate manure or compost to avoid nitrogen runoff and volatilization losses, 3) to facilitate more rapid mineralization and release of nutrients to the crop, and 4) to prepare a seedbed and control weeds. Since an increase in tillage intensity and frequency has been shown to lead to soil erosion and decrease soil organic matter, careful timing and equipment selection can limit these effects. Organic farmers should recognize the wide array of state-of-the-art tillage and planting equipment. Farmers utilizing modern equipment have become proficient at very complex and integrated organic cropping systems. For example, a number of modern tillage implements have been designed to manage residue and cover crops, helping to reduce soil vulnerability to erosion and organic matter losses. Organic farmers must fully understand the impact of tillage practices on soil quality. A tillage system goal of sustainability relies upon regular soil quality evaluation, especially focusing on soil structure, tilth, organic matter, soil fauna, nutrient cycling, and microbial activity.

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Within This Chapter: Soil Tillage in Organic Farming Systems