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Conservation tillage

Benefits of Conservation Tillage

  • Less soil erosion
  • Better soil structure & fertility
  • More biodiversity
  • Quick crop establishment
  • Less labor
  • Less machinery required
  • Less fuel used
  • Reduced greenhouse gas emissions
  • Lower costs
  • Cheaper food

No-till seeding in US Mid-WestNo-till seeding in US Mid-West Conservation tillage techniques have rapidly become popular ways of preparing fields for cropping because of their many environmental and economic benefits. Non-selective herbicides like paraquat are essential components of conservation tillage because fields are not plowed to bury weeds, and desiccated vegetation, stover and stubble provide a protective cover to the soil. This helps to minimise erosion, provides habitats for beneficial insects and other wildlife, and undisturbed soil builds higher levels of organic matter, key to good soil structure and fertility.  

The gold standard is no-till in which there are no soil cultivations at all. Other forms of conservation tillage are shown below.

Soil tillage systems1

Conventional Tillage

Any intensive tillage system, usually plowing and subsequent cultivations, in which less than 30% plant residue cover is left after planting. Weed control before planting is mainly or solely by burial in cultivation.

Conservation tillage

Reduced or zero tillage systems which leave at least 30% of field covered by vegetation or plant remains throughout the year. Weed control is mainly or only by herbicides. Conservation tillage systems include:


No soil cultivations and remains of previous crop are spread over field providing at least 30% coverage throughout the year. Seed is planted in a slot cut through the soil. (If narrow seedbed strips are created this is called strip-till.) Weed control is only by herbicides.


No soil cultivations apart from making ridges. Seed is planted along ridges and remains of previous crop are left between ridges.


A shallow, minimal cultivations system, which leaves more than 30% of the field covered by straw, stover, stubble or cover crop remains.


As defined by CTIC