What Are Different Types of Tillage Systems?


Tillage system in agriculture refers to the process of preparing soil for planting or seeding by using methods such as plowing or turning the soil.

Tillage operations help to loosen and aerate the soil, clear plant debris, allowing for deeper root penetration, as well as controlling weeds and mixing organic matter, fertilizer, and manure with the soil.

Although tillage can be a vital aspect of a profitable agricultural operation, limiting the frequency of soil disturbance can result in several advantages. Such benefits include decreased soil erosion and associated water and air contamination.

The conventional tillage method, which employs plows or other tools to overturn the soil and produce a smooth, level seedbed, has been the customary approach. Nonetheless, there are other tillage systems that have become more prevalent in recent times, such as conservation tillage and no-till farming.

Types Of Tillage Systems 


No-till is a type of tillage system in which the soil remains undisturbed from the harvest until planting, and crops are directly seeded into the previous year’s crop residue, without any plowing or tilling of the soil.

Three main methods of no-till farming are;

  • Direct Seeding
  • Sod Seeding
  • Surface Seeding

Conservation Tillage

Conservation tillage is a farming technique that involves reducing soil disturbance before crop planting and maintenance. 

It refers to a farming system where a minimum of 30% soil cover is maintained by leaving crop residue on the soil surface after planting. When compared to conventional practices, minimum tillage systems can reduce tillage passes by 40% or more.  

It has a clear conservation goal, of reducing the volume of soil disturbed or preserving surface residues in order to maintain soil and environmental viability.

Maintaining crop residue on the soil surface throughout the year can result in multiple benefits, such as reducing erosion caused by wind and water, preventing runoff and loss of particulate matter and nutrients, and contributing to improved water and air quality. 

Additionally, reducing tillage can promote soil aggregation, increase biological activity, and enhance water holding capacity and infiltration rates, leading to greater soil moisture availability, improved soil tilth, and increased organic matter content.

To sum up, minimum tillage is a valuable technique for seedbed preparation and crop yield, as it can conserve soil, lower costs, and enhance soil health. 

If you want to prepare a seedbed for better crop production, Kelly Tillage offers affordable disc chains for reduced tillage. Farmers can save significantly on fuel, equipment and labor costs with conservation tillage. It involves less soil disturbance and fewer trips over the field compared to conventional tillage.

Type Of Conservational Tillage 

There are several types of conservational tillage:

  1. Zone Tillage 

This tillage technique is aimed at reducing soil compaction issues and enhancing internal soil drainage by agitating the soil. The method is intended to touch only a narrow strip of soil directly under the crop row.

Zone tillage tills a narrow strip where the crop row will be planted, creating a raised bed, while leaving the rest of the field undisturbed. Strip tillage, in contrast, tills a wider strip to create a well-tilled seedbed for planting.

  1. Strip Till

This involves a farming technique that consists of tilling a small, precise strip of soil exclusively in the area where the crop is to be grown while leaving the soil between the rows undisturbed.

 The process usually involves tilling a shallow strip of soil, typically measuring 6-8 inches in width and depth, that is utilized for planting crops.

  1. In-Row Subsoiling

Row subsoiling is a technique used in agriculture to break up compacted soil layers beneath the planting row, without disturbing the soil between other rows.

 This can be done by specialized tillage implements allowing air, water, and nutrients to penetrate deeper into the soil profile

  1. Ridge Till

In Ridge tillage, the soil is loosened and shaped into ridges using specialized tillage implements. Crop is then planted on top of these ridges, while furrows are left in between to facilitate drainage of excess water.

Planting on ridges can increase soil fertility, facilitate soil warming and foster improved root development, ultimately leading to increased crop yields.

  1. Mulch Tillage

In the field of agriculture, the practices of mulch tillage are categorized under the broader term of conservation tillage in the United States. It is practiced as a means of limiting soil disturbance and supporting sustainable soil management practices.

Mulch tillage is a method of preparing soil for planting crops that involves the use of a tillage tool to manipulate the soil while leaving a layer of organic material on the surface to serve as mulch. 

This layer can consist of different types of organic matter, such as crop residue, leaves, or grass clippings, that remain on the soil after the previous crop has been harvested.

  1. Reduced Tillage

Reduced tillage refers to a type of tillage that involves minimizing the intensity and depth of soil disturbance, as well as reducing the area of land that is tilled.

It also involves retaining crop residue or stubble on the ground instead of removing or incorporating it into the soil.

This approach can be implemented by reducing the frequency of tillage passes. Over time, reduced tillage practices may progress towards complete elimination of tillage to promote sustainable farming and improve soil health.

Pros and Cons of Reduced Tillage


Reduce Erosion: Maintaining soil cover, including crop residues, through reduced tillage can aid in reducing soil erosion. This can have several benefits, including the preservation of soil fertility and the prevention of waterway sedimentation.

Improve Soil Health: Reduced tillage methods have the potential to enhance soil health by preserving soil structure, promoting soil microbe and fauna activity, and increasing soil organic matter content. 

By leaving the soil undisturbed, stable aggregates can form, leading to improved soil aeration, water infiltration, and nutrient retention. Over time, these practices can contribute to the long-term health and vitality of the soil.

Reduced Disturbance Of Wildlife Habitat: Soil-dwelling organisms like insects, earthworms, and small mammals have their habitats disrupted by tilling. On the other hand, reduced tillage practices help to preserve the integrity of these habitats, thus promoting biodiversity both above and below the ground.


Herbicide dependence: When farmers practice reduced tillage to control weeds, they may increase their reliance on herbicides, which can have adverse effects on the environment.

Pest and disease pressure: Crop residues left on the soil surface in reduced tillage systems can create a more favorable habitat for pests and diseases, increasing the risk of outbreaks.

Equipment expenses: The adoption of reduced tillage practices may require specialized equipment, which can be costly for farmers to purchase and maintain.

Conventional Tillage

Usually, conventional tillage includes a two-step process where the initial stage involves primary tillage, and the subsequent stage involves secondary tillage, which typically requires the use of harrows or disks.

Conventional agriculture practices, such as deep tilling, often involve moving the topsoil and may touch the deeper layers of soil to some extent. 

  1. Primary Tillage

Primary tillage is the initial phase of breaking up the topsoil and loosening the subsoil through digging. It is also referred to as deep tillage and typically employs heavy equipment like plows, chisels, or disks. 

Its main objective is to create a favorable seedbed for planting. Primary tillage is usually conducted in the fall or spring, prior to planting, and should not be repeated within the same season to prevent over-tilling and soil degradation. 

  1. Secondary Tillage 

Secondary tillage is the process of refining the soil surface and creating a seedbed suitable for planting, which is done after the initial primary tillage. This type of tillage is achieved using mechanical equipment like harrows  or disks. 

The objective of secondary tillage is to break up clumps of soil, level the surface, and incorporate any remaining plant material or fertilizer, resulting in an ideal environment for seed germination and plant growth.

  1. Intensive Tillage

Intensive tillage refers to a method of preparing land for crop cultivation, which utilizes heavy machinery to mechanically break up the soil and create a uniform seedbed that is suitable for planting.

This process typically involves implements that work the soil to a significant depth, such as harrows.


We’ve discussed all types of tillage systems. It is important to select the most effective tillage systems for your farmland. 

The selection of the appropriate tillage system for agriculture should always be based on several factors such as soil type, crop type, climate, and tillage management objectives. 

You can always rely on Kelly Tillage to get the most durable and cost-efficient agricultural equipment for your farmland.