Zero Till

Now that all our seeds are in the soil and we have shifted from #plant18 to #grow18, it seems like a good time to look back at some seeding pictures.  You may have noticed that some of our fields look a bit “messy”.  Zero till means that all of the organic matter (aka “trash”) from last year’s crop is still in the field.  Depending on the crop and the weather conditions, after one winter the trash is in various states of breaking down and returning to the soil.

Planting sunflowers into cereal stubble.

Planting sunflowers into cereal stubble.

Zero tilling into sunflower stalks

Zero tilling into sunflower stalks

What factors do farmers consider when deciding to zero till, or use tillage?

  • Not tilling the soil after combining means less equipment-passes over the field to work the leftover organic matter into the soil.  This results in less labour hours and less equipment hours, which saves fuel and wear and tear.

  • The amount of organic matter left after combining depends on the type of crop grown, and the plant development in any given year.  For instance, the amount of wheat straw and stubble left after combining depends on the thickness of the stand and the stalk height (influenced by variety and weather conditions). 

  • Leaving organic matter in the field helps to catch snow, which increases the moisture available in the spring.  This can be a benefit or a problem, depending on the soil type, winter snow accumulation and spring melt conditions.

  • Tillage is used as a physical mechanism for reducing weeds.

Zero till after canola was seeded

Zero till after canola was seeded

It is also worth noting, that farmers may use a combination of zero-till and tillage to maximize their land’s fertility and productivity, to influence water usage, or to manage compaction.  No one tillage solution is right for every farm, every farmer, every field or every year.