Tillage worst thing for S.D. soils

Farm Forum

Huron (NRCS) – Tillage may be the worst thing right now that could happen for soil in South Dakota fields say conservation officials. Spring tillage is a tradition that is steeped deeply into American agriculture. Now, more and more producers are realizing that tillage is not in the best interest of their soil’s health.

“Tillage was once considered necessary in order to prepare a proper seed bed for planting. Now, we know that we can produce as much or more grain without tilling the soil,” says Jason Miller, Conservation Agronomist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Pierre, SD.

“Tillage passes reduce surface soil moisture, but more alarming is that fact that tillage is incredibly destructive to soil; it is like a tornado going through a house,’ says Miller. Tillage collapses and destroys organic matter and soil structure. “Those macro pores in the soil structure are essential-they are what helps water to infiltrate the soil profile,” he says.

“The possibility of 2013 being another dry year should have producers rethinking their use of tillage,” says Miller. In a tilled condition, soil is vulnerable to erosion. “As dry as the soil profile is starting out this year, even getting the crop seeded will be difficult without a concern for wind erosion,” says Miller. Winds during the spring easily pick up soil particles on tilled fields before crops can become established.

“Reducing or eliminating tillage, increases surface residue, builds organic matter and preserves soil health,” says Miller. Improved cropping systems for building soil should include no-till, diverse high residue producing crop rotations and cover crops.

Producers interested in learning more about soil health or wanting technical assistance for implementing a soil health management system on their farm or ranch should contact their local NRCS office or visit the Soil Health Information Center at