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.

Click on the following topics for more information on soil tillage in organic farming systems.

Topics Within This Chapter:

  • National Organic Program Standard for Soil Tillage
  • Section 205.203(a) – Soil Fertility and Crop Nutrient Management Practices
  • Soil Tillage Systems
  • Conventional Tillage
  • Primary Tillage
  • Secondary Tillage
  • Advantages and Disadvantage of Conventional Tillage
  • Conservation Tillage
  • Advantages and Disadvantage of Conservation Tillage
  • Conservation Tillage Systems
  • No-till Till
  • Strip Till
  • Benefits of Strip Till
  • Disadvantages with Strip Till
  • Timing of Strip-Till
  • Strip-till Implements
  • Real Time Kinetic Guidance
  • Ridge Till
  • Soil Tillage Implements
  • Moldboard Plows
  • Moldboard Plow Configurations
  • Chisel Plows
  • Chisel Plow Configurations
  • Disk Plows
  • Disk Plow Configurations
  • Disk Harrows
  • Disk Harrow Configurations
  • Rotary Tillers
  • Spading Machines
  • Field Cultivators
  • Spike-, Spring-, and Tine-Toothed Harrows
  • Rotary Harrows
  • Packers
  • Conservation Tillage Planters
  • Row Cleaners
  • Coulters
  • Depth-gauge Wheels
  • Drag Chains
  • References