From JSWC: Conservation Tillage is not Conservation Agriculture

The Journal of Soil and Water Conservation Sept/Oct 2015 issue published the story “Conservation Tillage is not Conservation Agriculture.” The author, Don C. Reicosky, tries to clean up the gray area of what is considered conservation tillage. He explains the differences in terminology and outcomes of tillage practices from the moldboard plow to no-till, complete with charts and diagrams.

Corn_little-residue“The various practices described as “conservation tillage” have led to terminology confusion. Conservation tillage [CT] is often confused with no-till or variants of CT described in vague terms, such as such as minimum tillage, mulch tillage, ridge tillage, strip tillage, and reduced tillage, where planting is achieved on specially prepared surfaces with various amounts of crop residue cover.

…The significant soil loss from the CT treatments suggests that, despite the accepted 30% residue cover, many types of CT do not adequately protect the soil from raindrop impact and are not sustainable.

…The phrase “conservation tillage” has become, at times, an oxymoron; it sends a mixed and confusing message and gives a misguided sense of entitlement and conservation because of very “loose limits” on the definition of soil disturbance and residue management. Conservation is a word to be respected, revered, and used to describe agriculture, not tillage.”

Reicosky goes on to explain Conservation Agriculture:

39-2_no-till“The definition of CA incorporates system concepts based on three key principles: (1) continuous residue cover on the soil surface; (2) continuous minimum soil disturbance (no-tillage); and (3) diverse crop rotations and cover crop mixes.

…True conservation is more about plant C (residue) management than soil management.

…Without tillage, there are more environmental benefits accrued with fewer input costs over time. Many farmers are finding the hand-in-hand environmental and economic benefits of this systems approach for food security.”

Read the article and locate the tillage practice in the story’s accompanying graphics that you are doing. Are you following the best practices to reduce soil erosion and build organic matter?

— Carol Brown

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