FAQs on reduced tillage systems in vegetables

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  1. What is reduced tillage? Reduced tillage is a method of tillage in which the soil has been disturbed to a lesser extent relative to the conventional tillage (plowed/harrow till). The major advantage of reduced tillage lies in the improvement of soil structure due to more protective surface residue cover and reduction in soil compaction resulting from reduced farm traffic. Thus, a soil under reduced tillage will experience less soil erosion and degradation relative to conventionally tilled soil.
  2. Why reduced tillage on my vegetable farm? Reduced and modified tillage systems (e.g. no-, zone-, strip-, or ridge- till) represent strategies to reduce soil degradation and erosion and protect water quality. Zone-till and strip-till have been shown to be substantial improvements over strict no-tillage in the Northeast, in that some in-row soil disturbance and residue removal improves seed germination, drainage and aeration, and reduces the effects of compaction, while still providing the environmental benefits of no-tillage. Ridge tillage has shown even greater adaptability to medium and fine-textured soils in Northeast region and consistently provided the highest yields, even greater than moldboard plowing, in ten-year tillage experiments on two soil types. Use of tillage systems that involve some ridging and bedding while still providing the benefits of minimum tillage therefore appear to be most promising for the region.
  3. Do I have to change my equipment? Since reduced tillage systems is a variety of tillage practices, which can be implemented depending on individual’s specific situation, equipment needs will depend on tillage system to be implemented. However, not all reduced tillage systems need tillage equipment change. Reduced tillage may just mean that the tillage intensity and/or frequency are being reduced on the farm relative to conventional tillage system.
  4. Which vegetable crops are adaptable to reduced tillage? No-till systems with cover crops have been shown feasible for several vegetable crops, including broccoli, snap beans and tomatoes in the more southern regions of the Northeast. In more northern areas, pumpkins have been grown successfully with no-till.
    Successful vegetable production in strip tillage systems has been demonstrated with sweet corn, snap beans, peas, and other vegetables in the Southeast. However, yield results in northern climates are variable. Strip tillage of snap beans improved yields relative to no-till systems but effects varied for sweet pepper and winter squash yields. Tillage systems had no effect on tomato yields in a study in Ontario. Studies are on-going at the Cornell University, New York, to adapt various reduced tillage practices to vegetable production. For more information, you can contact Anusuya Rangarajan, an Associate Professor of the Horticultural Department, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.
  5. What do I gain from reduced tillage?  Reduced tillage is a method whereby the field tillage operations are cut down relative to conventional tillage. This reduction could either be in time or space. With reduced tillage, the soil become healthier and less compacted. Another added benefit is the reduction in soil degradation and erosion, which often causes on-site and off-site damages to farmlands. In general, reduced tillage eventually leads to sustainable use of soil
  6. Who can help to transition to reduced tillage?  In case you need more information about reduced tillage for vegetable production in New York State, you can contact the following people:

    Anusuya Rangarajan
    Department of Horticulture,
    121 Plant Science Building,
    Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853,
    Tel: (607) 255-1780
    Email: ar47@cornell.edu

  7. How about equipment?  First of all, you must know the type of reduced tillage you want to engage in before setting out to buy any equipment. It is best to link up with those who have successfully implemented reduced tillage in their vegetable farming to get the needed advice. The Department of Horticulture, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York can also be of help. Please feel free to contact any of the Expert Growers listed on this website for information regarding transition to reduced tillage practices for vegetable crops.
  8. Are some farmers already involved? Yes. We have some farmers who have successfully transitioned to reduce-tillage for vegetable production. To read more or to contact these farmers, check the Expert Growers listed on this website.
  9. What about the soils? Just like crops, soil responds differently to tillage systems. It is important to know the nature of your soil before engaging in any form of reduced tillage. The Cornell Soil Health team can assist in assessing the suitability of your soil to reduced tillage in New York State. Please feel free to contact Cornell Soil Health Team on any question regarding your soils in relation to tillage.
  10. What is soil health and where do I get information on it? Soil Health is an integrated assessment of the biological, chemical and physical status of a soil. For more information contact the Cornell Soil Health Team.

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