Submitted to: Encyclopedia of Rural America
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: May 1, 2008
Publication Date: November 2, 2008
Citation: Reicosky, D.C. 2008. Tillage. In: Goreham, G., editor. Encyclopedia of Rural America. Vol. 2. 2nd edition. Millerton, NY: Grey House Publishing, Inc. p. 984-991. Technical Abstract: Historical evolution of tillage systems provides modern civilization learning opportunities to cope with future challenges to sustainable management of natural resources. Traditional agricultural production involves at least five separate operations: (1) tilling or preparing the soil; (2) planting; (3) cultivating; (4) harvesting, and (5) processing, transporting, and storage before consumption. As the technology evolved, tillage expanded to include many aspects of soil and crop residue management and evolved into different tillage systems, each with their own objectives. Tillage is first on this list because it has been an integral part of the production process. This review is intended to show what we have learned from the past and the need for a smooth transition toward less intensive tillage to maintain sustainable production. Equipment presently used in these systems is briefly described. While tillage has been used to create the "ideal environment" for plant establishment and productivity, intensive tillage is the major factor that sets a soil up for all types of erosion including water, wind and tillage. Improved soil management practices related to less intensive tillage are described that minimize agriculture's impact on environmental quality while maintaining the soil resource. We must place more emphasis on conservation of all natural resources and additional emphasis on carbon as a key component in maintaining ecosystem stability. The degradation of soil quality results from biomass removal and subsequent soil carbon and plant nutrient loss associated with bio-energy production. Farmers are faced with serious decisions managing this delicate balance with respect to tillage and biomass removal impacts and environmental consequences of maintaining sustainable production of food, feed, fiber and fuel.