Tillage, which was once considered necessary in order to prepare a proper seed bed for planting, comes at a high price in terms of increasing diesel prices and labour costs. But according to Niels Hansen, a soil health specialist with USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Salt Lake City, the bigger, long-term cost may come at the expense of the health and function of the soil itself - resulting in lower yields, higher input costs and reduced drought resilience for Utah farms.
"Tillage is incredibly destructive to the soil structure and to the soil ecosystem," Hansen said. "In healthy soil you have 50 percent air and water - which is made possible by the pore space in the soil - and 50 percent mineral and organic matter. But tillage collapses and destroys that structure, making the soil vulnerable to erosion and compaction," he said.
Fortunately, more and more irrigated and dryland producers in Utah are farming with systems to build soil health, Hansen said. "Using a suite of conservation practices, like no-till farming and diverse cover crops," he said, "they're keeping living plants in the soil as long as possible and they're keeping the soil surface covered with residue year round."
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