World Soil Day - The Tillage Debate

Distag Blog

Today is world soil day!

Soil seems like a bit of an odd thing to dedicate a day to but 95% of the world’s food is produced in soil. Without healthy soils we won’t be able to grow crops, which is a worrying prospect. This is why many tillage farmers are looking into the best way to prepare soil before and after they harvest their yield.

There are three main approaches to tillage:

1. Conventional tillage

2. Conservation tillage

3. No-till

Conventional tillage utilises machines such as a plough or discs to turn over and loosen the soil after harvest. This can leave the soil exposed to rain and wind, which can lead to erosion of the topsoil that is needed for crop growth.

Conservation tillage takes a different approach. This technique minimises the disruption to the soil when planting seeds. This method of planting helps to prevent soil erosion. By using specialist equipment, the residue of the previous harvest (e.g. plant debris, stalks, etc.) is left intact when the new seeds are planted. This offers additional protection for the soil from erosion, while providing a source of nutrients as the residue will breakdown and compost.

No-till is similar to conservation tillage, but is far less disruptive to the soil. With no-till, no residue from the previous harvest is turned over, and the seed planters only go as deep as they need to for the seed to be planted.


Tractor ploughing a field


However, from a tillage farmer’s point of view, there are advantages and disadvantages for each option. We have compiled a list of widely thought advantages and disadvantages regarding the types of tillage systems used.



Major advantages

Major disadvantages


  • Suited for poorly drained soils
  • Excellent incorporation
  • Well-tilled seedbed
  • Major soil erosion
  • High soil moisture loss
  • Timeliness considerations
  • Highest fuel and labour costs


  • Less winter wind erosion from roughened surface
  • Well adapted to poorly drained soils
  • Good incorporation
  • Lightest erosion control
  • High soil moisture loss
  • Shredding may be needed for residue flow
  • Medium fuel and labour requirements


  • Less erosion with more residue
  • Well adapted for well-drained soils
  • Good incorporation
  • Little erosion control with more operations
  • High soil moisture loss
  • Destroys soil structure
  • Compacts wet soil

Ridge Plant

  • Excellent for furrow irrigation or poorly drained soils
  • Ridges warm up and dry out quickly
  • Well suited for organic production
  • No incorporation
  • Must be annual row crops
  • Wheel spacing and other machinery modifications may be required
  • Creating and maintaining ridges


  • Tilled residue-free strip warms quickly
  • Injection of nutrients into row area
  • Well suited for poorly drained soils
  • Cost of preplant operation
  • Strips may dry too much, crust, or erode without residue
  • Not suited for drilled crops
  • Timeliness in wet falls
  • Possible RTK guidance costs


  • Excellent erosion control
  • Soil moisture conservation
  • Minimum fuel and labour costs
  • Builds soil structure and health
  • No incorporation
  • Increased dependence on herbicides
  • Slow soil warming on poorly drained soils

 (Information provided by CropWatch: https://cropwatch.unl.edu/tillage/advdisadv)


Soil preservation is still a heavily debated topic in the farming industry. We would love to hear you views on the issue and what systems you use. Leave a comment at the bottom of the blog, or on one of our relevant social media posts. Let’s discuss soil preservation for World Soil Day!


A field full of crops


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