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No-till farming
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Preparing for planting involves different practices to ensure smooth and easy cultivation of crops . Tillage is one of the land preparation practices in farming that involves the process of turning over the soil, thereby burying plant residue, weeds, and pests in the soil.

This practice was adopted during the agricultural revolution thousands of decades ago. Even though this practice was adopted to ease the planting of seeds as well as control weeds in the soil, it comes with several other disadvantages which make the ancient no-till method a better option when preparing the land for planting. There are several reasons to employ no-till farming which include.

What is no till farming?

No till farming, also known as zero tillage or direct seeding, is an agricultural technique that involves planting crops without prior soil tillage or disturbance. Instead of plowing or cultivating the soil, seeds are directly sown into the undisturbed soil.

This method helps to conserve soil moisture, reduce erosion, and improve soil health by preserving the natural structure and organic matter. No till farming also reduces fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, making it an environmentally friendly approach to agriculture.

How do we do no-till farming? Why is no till agriculture good?

No-till agriculture is a system of farming where the land is not overturned when preparing the soil for planting. This practice is contrary to the common practice of farmers when preparing the soil for planting. Contemporary farmers till the soil for several reasons.

These include aeration of the soil, controlling pests and weeds, and also warming the soil. The disadvantages of land tilling include erosion, loss of soil moisture, the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere leading to global warming, and the list goes on. The benefits of no-till farming include:

1. Prevents erosion

The no-till method of farming is often accompanied by other methods such as crop rotation which makes washing away the topsoil difficult. Unlike the tilling method that exposes the loose soil and also makes it bare making it an easy target for wind and water erosion .

2. Prevents pollution

This method prevents erosion which does not only wash the topsoil but also fertilizer or herbicide which causes pollution to large water bodies after contact. The pollution of the water can result in the death of organisms in the water

3. Maintaining the natural habitat of an organism

By burying plants and pests beneath the soil, soil organism activities that contribute to the fertility of the soil are destroyed when exposed to direct sunlight. The no-till method ensures that soil organism activities are maintained. The activities of the soil organism aerate the soil thereby increasing soil fertility.

4. Less time spent on soil preparation

When preparing the land for planting there are several practices involved starting from the clearing of land to the actual planting of the seed. Practicing organic no-till farming eliminates the time spent on tilling the soil during the preparation and makes the overall process much faster.

5. Reduction in cost

The cost of tilling the land by acquiring tools and machines needed is reduced as well as the cost of fuel for running the machine. This reduces the cost of farm production resulting in more profit.

6. Reduction of labor

The manpower required to carry out the land preparation process is reduced since a whole process has been removed. The cost of paying for the labor is also reduced leading to an overall reduction in the cost of farm production

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7. Reduce carbon sequestration

Tilling the land exposes the soil to the atmosphere, and carbon is found in the soil when it is exposed to the air. The carbon from the soil reacts with oxygen in the air to give carbon dioxide which is a greenhouse gas. This carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere and contributes to the amount present in the atmosphere leading to global warming.

8. Increase soil moisture

The topsoil and plant cover prevents evaporation of water from the soil, which helps retain and increase the effect of irrigation due to high infiltration. The cover plant also serves as mulch for the soil by preventing direct exposure to sunlight leading to evaporation.

No-till farming benefits

No-till farming benefits are numerous, to achieve the benefit proper knowledge of the process is required. Since you already know the benefits of no-till farming, let’s dive into how to adopt no-till farming. To employ no-till agriculture on the soil, certain principles must be observed.

No-till farming benefits

1. Covering the soil

If you are willing to adopt no-till agriculture, it is important to always ensure your soil remains covered, this is to prevent evaporation as well as encourage the activities of microorganisms in the soil.

The topsoil is very sensitive and direct exposure to the sun or other harsh conditions can result in cracking or compacting the soil. Ensuring the soil moisture is not affected is necessary for healthy and fertile soil.

2. Ensure minimum soil disturbance

It is important to avoid soil disturbance when practicing no-till farming. The effect of tillage is similar to natural disasters that affect humans such as earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, etc.

This is because it displaces the soil microorganism just as disasters destroy the lives and property of humans. When the disturbance of the soil is reduced to the minimum, the soil organism community is restored. This in turn builds the soil organic matter which forms the humus.

The soil organism also helps in fixing nitrogen into the soil. Reducing soil disturbance increases fungal activities in the soil.

3. Mimicking the nature

No-till farming is often accompanied by crop rotation. When mono-cropping is adopted on soil such that a single plant is grown on the soil continuously, only certain organisms and pests are found in the soil .

However, when you practice crop rotation which enhances the introduction of different microorganisms and pests is avoided since different pests affect different plants. The action of different microorganisms on the soil during crop rotation mimics the activities on natural soil.

4. Feeding soil microorganisms

When the land is left to fallow following the harvesting of crops, microorganisms in the soil are left to starve with no plant to feed on. Practicing no-till agriculture is important to ensure the grasses or roots of plants are left to keep the microorganisms from dying.

This will ensure the activities of microorganisms on the soil continues, keeping the soil healthy and fertile. Covering the soil in no-till farming can be achieved using two methods which are Occultation and sheet mulching.

5. Occultation

This involves the covering of soil using clothes or fabrics. The term occultation is a French word that refers to ‘hidden’. The fabric allows the air and moisture into the soil, which is important for the survival of microorganisms and also the decomposition of microorganisms.

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It also serves as a screen from the sun that can affect the germination of weed seeds. This soil covering method is done for about two months and requires little to no labor.

6. Sheet mulching

It involves covering the soil using nylon, cardboard, amendment, mulch, and compost. The first layer comprises the amendment followed by cardboard, mulch, and finally the compost which makes the final layer at the top.

This method is labor-intensive but can be done within the space of four weeks and the planting can commence on it. If you are planning to practice no-till farming the following are the step-by-step guides to follow.

7. First, get your soil tested.

This will provide you with information on the soil analysis comprising the soil ph level and presence of micronutrients.

You can also check online for labs that carry out the test and also on the procedure of getting your soil sample.

  • Get the amendments based on your requirements
  • Cut down the grasses, cover crops and weeds leaving plants debris and roots
  • Add the amendments followed by the compost
  • Cover with fabric or mulch sheet based on the method you are using
  • For sheet mulch, you can plant after some weeks and for the fabric, leave for about two months before planting.

The process of farming starts with land preparation and the methods which enhance the fertility of the soil should be given utmost consideration. No-tilling farming ensures that the health and fertility of the soil are maintained by ensuring an increase in soil organic material.

The several benefits of no-till farming also make it a better choice than tilling the soil which predisposes the soil to various harm such as erosion, loss of soil moisture, and reduction in the activities of the soil to mention a few.

Adopting no-till agriculture helps maintain the soil and prevents the soil from losing its fertility as a result of tilling In years to come.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How does no till farming help conserve soil fertility? How does it help the environment?

No till farming plays a crucial role in conserving soil fertility. By avoiding traditional tillage practices, the soil structure is preserved, preventing the loss of organic matter and essential nutrients. The undisturbed soil provides a habitat for beneficial organisms like earthworms, which enhance nutrient cycling and soil aeration.

Additionally, the retention of crop residue on the surface helps reduce erosion, maintains moisture levels, and gradually enriches the soil through decomposition. Overall, no till farming helps maintain and improve soil fertility for sustainable and productive agriculture.

2. What is no till soil?

No till soil refers to soil that has not been subjected to traditional tillage practices in agriculture. It is characterized by its undisturbed structure and the presence of organic matter, crop residue, and living organisms.

3. What is an example of an agricultural planting practice that involves no plowing?

An example of an agricultural planting practice that involves no plowing is direct seeding or direct drilling. In this method, seeds are sown directly into the undisturbed soil without any prior plowing or tillage.

This technique helps conserve soil moisture, preserve soil structure, and minimize erosion. It is commonly used in no-till or reduced tillage systems, promoting sustainable farming practices and preserving soil health.

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4. Should you till your garden?

The decision to till your garden depends on several factors. Tilling can help break up compacted soil, control weeds, and incorporate amendments. However, excessive or unnecessary tilling can disrupt soil structure, deplete organic matter, and increase erosion risk.

For established gardens, minimal or no-till practices are often recommended to preserve soil health and beneficial soil organisms. Consider the specific needs of your garden and explore alternative methods like mulching or spot-tilling to maintain a balance between soil management and preservation.

5. How to till a yard?

To till a yard, follow these steps:

  • Clear the area: Remove any debris, rocks, or large obstacles from the yard to ensure a smooth tilling process.
  • Prepare the tiller: Adjust the depth and width settings of the tiller according to your needs. Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for proper setup.
  • Start tilling: Begin tilling from one end of the yard, moving in straight lines or overlapping paths. Keep a steady pace and let the tiller’s blades dig into the soil to break it up.
  • Repeat and level: If needed, make additional passes over the yard to thoroughly till the soil. Once finished, use a rake or garden tool to level the tilled area for planting or further yard maintenance.

Remember to consider the weather and soil conditions before tilling, as excessively wet or dry soil can make the process more challenging.

6. What are tillers used for?

Tillers are agricultural tools used for soil preparation in gardening and farming. They are designed to break up and loosen compacted soil, making it easier for planting. Tillers have rotating blades or tines that penetrate the soil, breaking it into smaller clumps and mixing in organic matter.

They help improve soil aeration, drainage, and nutrient distribution, creating an ideal environment for plant growth. Tillers are commonly used to prepare garden beds, cultivate rows for crops, and maintain overall soil health.

7. What is a no till drill?

A no-till drill is a specialized agricultural machine used for planting seeds directly into untilled or minimally disturbed soil. It is designed to create narrow seed furrows, accurately place seeds at the desired depth, and close the furrows for proper seed-to-soil contact.

The no-till drill helps maintain soil structure, preserve organic matter, and reduce erosion by minimizing soil disturbance. It is a key tool in no-till farming practices, promoting sustainable agriculture and efficient seed placement for optimal crop growth.

8. Why is tilling bad?

Tilling can have negative consequences for soil health and the environment. Excessive or unnecessary tilling disrupts the soil structure, leading to erosion, compaction, and loss of organic matter.

Tilling also accelerates the breakdown of soil aggregates, reducing its ability to hold water and nutrients. Moreover, tilling releases stored carbon into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.

Minimizing tilling or adopting no-till practices can help preserve soil fertility, promote water conservation, and mitigate environmental impacts.

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