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Competency Area 5: Soil conservation AEM

PO 51. Understand the adaptability of tillage systems to various cropping systems.

  1. Livestock-based systems
  2. Conventional cash grain systems
  3. Low-input and organic cash grain systems
  4. Horticultural and vegetable production systems

Low-input and Organic Cash Grain systems

  • Residue Return: Similar to B above.
  • Crop Diversity: Permanent no-tillage is possible in low-input systems withhigh crop diversity, but not on organic grain farms due to weed control problems. Ridge tillage is not an option.
  • Soil Compaction: These operations may be small and therefore the threat of compaction may be limited, in which case no-tillage is an excellent option. In organic systems, farmers may attempt to plow as shallow as possible to reduce tillage intensity.
  • Soil Erosion: A significant threat if plow tillage is used. The effects of plow tillage need to be compensated by return of crop residues, cover crops, composts and manure additions to maintain soil quality.
  • Soil Warming: Not usually a major issue on these farms because crops are typically not planted as early.
  • Weed Control: Plow tillage is the best weed control around, but may be alternated with less intensive tillage such as mulch tillage or occasional no-tillage.
  • Nutrient Management: If compost is applied, ammonia volatilization is not a concern and no incorporation is required.

Horticultural and Vegetable Production systems

  • Residue Return: These cropping systems often include low residue crops and sometimes the whole plant is removed. Soil degradation is a significant concern that needs to be addressed by reducing or eliminating tillage.
  • Crop Diversity: Cropping diversity is often high to manage plant diseases. Therefore, mulch tillage would be recommended. To help with soil improvement it is recommended to plant cover crops and to rotate with field and forage crops that are grown without tillage and return large quantities of crop residue to the soil.
  • Soil Compaction: Soil compaction is a very serious threat on these farms. It may be necessary to do deep tillage to alleviate subsoil compaction or to do shallow tillage if surface compaction is prevalent.
  • Soil Erosion: Wind erosion may be a concern on peat soils used for vegetable production. The solution is wind breaks and/or crop residue. Whatever can be done to reduce tillage intensity will be beneficial to improve soil quality.
  • Soil Warming: Mulch cover keeps soils cool. Zone tillage or clean tillage should be considered.
  • Weed Control: It is important to reduce the production of viable weed seeds and to deplete the weed seed bank. It is also important to prevent perennials from getting a foothold in continuous no-tillage. In practice, no-till may be practiced for a few years, but often needs to be followed by inversion tillage (plow till) to control weeds.
  • Nutrient Management: Tillage is not a major concern for nutrient management in vegetables, except to reduce volatilization when urea is used.