enhance soil health
Conservation tillage refers to using a cover crop and intentionally leaving plant residue from a prior crop in the field and not disturbing the soil. This modifies plant rooting structure and physiology to enable more efficient water use by crops and enhanced water holding capacity in the soil. Water infiltration rates and organic matter levels increase. Soil temperature, evaporative loss, and field runoff decrease.
The two main types of conservation tillage are no-till and strip-till. No-till methods plant crops directly into residue that has not been tilled. Strip-till methods plant crops into residue that has been tilled in narrow strips while leaving the rest of the field untilled. Crop residue shields soil from rain and wind, reducing soil erosion by as much as 60-90%. As the crop residue decomposes, the organic matter added to the soil reduces runoff, decreases moisture lost to evaporation, and improves soil quality.
In some cases, conservation tillage optimizes soil moisture allowing for enhanced crop growth in dry periods. This enhanced infiltration, soil water retention capacity, and the subsequent benefits result in water conservation.
Photographs courtesy of Casey Cox