Reduced Tillage in Organic Field Crop Production

How can organic farmers reduce tillage on their farms? In this webinar, Brett Israel from 3Gen Organic, Aaron Bowman from Bowmanview Farms, Jake Munroe from OMAFRA and Mel Luymes discussed this struggle. 

No-till agriculture is an organic farming technique that minimizes soil disturbance to prevent erosion, rebuild soil health and keep excess soil carbon from being released into the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas. It can be challenging to stop tilling completely and still produce sufficient yields. Without tillage soil can compact and become too hard for plant roots or water to penetrate, and weeds can run rampant through untilled fields. 

The challenge for organic farmers is to reduce tillage as much as possible without sacrificing profitability and, when tillage is unavoidable, to till with minimal damage to the soil and environment.

One of the tactics the panellists discussed was focusing on using various soil-enhancing or weed-killing practises to reduce the need for tillage. For instance, if you usually need to till every season to suppress weeds, you can try using crop rotations, cover crops and crop diversification as a means of breaking up weed cycles. 

Brett Israel discussed a unique approach 3Gen Organics uses to reduce soil compaction—they take most of the air out of the tires on their tractors before planting and refill them once the work is finished. The low tire pressure more evenly distributes the weight of the tractor.   

3Gen also found that they were able to reduce compaction by planting an oat cover crop immediately after fall harvest and leaving it to be killed by the frost. The resulting layer of plant biomass created a beautiful seedbed that could be planted into directly come the following spring. 

While rollers and crimpers have been used as weed control tools that don’t require tillage, results of this technique were mixed among panellists. 

The panellists emphasised that timing is key when tilling is unavoidable. Tilling in the fall should be avoided unless absolutely necessary since it leaves the ground exposed and susceptible to erosion during the wet seasons of winter and early spring. The best time to till is in late spring, since tilling at this time kills significantly less soil organic matter. Tilling should be as shallow as possible to reduce damage to the soil. You should never till into completely bare soil. 

The panellists shared these additional tips for experimenting with no-till farming: 

  • Think through field selection carefully to find the selection that works best for your farm
  • Always seed rye early
  • Start small and have a plan B, especially if the weather turns dry

For more information on climate-friendly agricultural practises, you can check out our Organic Climate Solutions campaign.

This is just one of the amazing discussions that took place at the 2021 EFAO Conference. Eager for more? You can now buy a bundle of the all the 2021 EFAO session recordings here!

Watch the full session below!

OCO would like to acknowledge our appreciation for the financial support provided by the Prairie Organic Development Fund and Agriculture and AgriFood Canada for this session as part of a ten part series of producer trainings!

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