Choosing the Right Tillage System for Row Crop Production

Published 2009

Using the right tillage system may contribute to profit, crop yields, soil improvement and protection of water resources. Numerous criteria, in addition to the cost of conversion, need to be considered when weighing the advantages and disadvantages of various tillage options.

Erosion causes loss of the more productive soil and causes contamination of surface waters. The impact of raindrops hitting bare soil causes detachment of soil particles, surface soil compaction and sealing with reduced infiltration.

Wind carries small soil particles long distances. Larger particles are lifted and dropped, bombarding other particles to release more soil particles to be carried by the wind.

Water infiltration is generally increased immediately after tillage, but tillage tends to break down soil structure by reducing soil aggregation and pore openings, eventually reducing the rate of water movement into the soil.

Tillage may increase nutrient losses due to erosion and oxidation of soil organic matter. Nutrient losses from erosion, while small compared to crop removal, have a major impact on the quality of surface waters.

Ridge tillage is compatible with furrow irrigation but may result in faster water infiltration, requiring more time for water to advance in the furrow as compared to conventional tillage.

Tillage kills annual and biennial weeds but shallow tillage often stimulates weed seed germination. Tillage only suppresses perennial weeds that can grow back from vegetative parts.

Insect pest management strategies generally are similar for all tillage systems. Reduced soil temperature increased moisture, and crop residue on the surface may result in an increase, decrease, or no effect on severity of a disease.

Publication Details


Charles S. Wortmann

Paul J. Jasa



Crop Production/Field Crops

Publication Date September 01, 2003
Last Revision Date October 12, 2009
Language English


Series NebGuide