Minimum Tillage

Definition of minimum tillage 

Min-till or reduced tillage is cultivating land using mechanical methods other than ploughing to reduce soil disturbance. The method has been growing in popularity and there are new machines designed specifically for min-till farming. KUHN offers a range of min-till equipment including industry leading min-till drills and cultivation equipment.  

Minimum tillage and fuel efficiency 

The use of heavy, fuel thirsty machinery to plough and establish land for a new crop can be significantly reduced by a min-till approach. This will reduce labour and fuel costs, operator time and greenhouse gas emissions from cultivation. Year on year these benefits will snowball, and many farms will be able to reinvest the money saved into new equipment to further benefit soil health. In simple terms, the less you disturb the soil, the greater these benefits are. 

Minimum tillage cultivator OPTIMER XL 12000 at work
Aurocks at work in the field

Benefits of minimum tillage 

Min-till is defined by using shallower cultivations, only to a depth of 15cm and not turning over the soil. By limiting the number of cultivation passes, a min-till approach will enable the soil structure to improve. This combined with using lighter cultivation methods such as tines and discs rather than ploughs and power harrows can significantly improve soil health. 

By improving soil health, reduced tillage can help crops establish quicker over time whilst reducing damage to soil structure. Not turning the soil over helps moisture retention, reduces the risk of surface runoff, and helps protect the land from flooding and drought.  

Taking a min-till approach and adapting a farming system can help to keep nutrients in the soil. This will both improve soil health and reduce the need for fertiliser by keeping more organic matter in the soil and improving its quality. The knock-on benefit is that worms and other organisms, which help to improve the fertility and structure of soil, will be less affected by min-till farming. This will help to increase their numbers and regenerate the soil stock.  

Work lights on the ESPRO seed drill

What soils is minimum tillage suited for? 

Min-till is suitable for most soils but works best on drier, more stable, and well-drained soils. It is harder to implement a min-till system on light soils which have a weaker structure. Reduced tillage is best for reseeding grassland and to establish common arable crops like cereals, oilseed rape (OSR) and cover crops.  

It can also be used to establish crops like beans and sugar beet. Min-till can be combined with strip tillage, conservation agriculture or cover crops to improve soil health and crop yields. 

Min-till is perfectly suited to soils prone to compaction, like very heavy clay soils. It can also be beneficial for light sandy soils to reduce water runoff. When preparing land using min-till, the aim is to not go deeper than 15cm or turn over the soil. It may be necessary to reduce soil compaction before starting a no-till or min-till system or during the rotation. 

To improve weed control a light cultivation after harvest will create a stale seedbed. This will encourage weed germination and the weeds can be sprayed off prior to sowing.  

After moving to a min-till system 

After starting a min-till system, crop yields can sometimes decline during the first 3 years. However, yields normally recover as soil health improves. 

Crop residues can retain nitrogen, which is needed in the soil to help crops grow. This can delay crops establishing in the short-term. Over time, microbes in the soil will adapt so nitrogen can be absorbed more effectively by the crop. This will help the crop to establish quicker. 

Practices carried out in minimum tillage 

Spreading chopped straw evenly across the field using a straw rake can help. It is also common to use a small amount of fertiliser on spring crops. It is not advised to use this on autumn crops because there is a higher risk of nutrients polluting water (leaching). 

Weed, pest and disease control can be more challenging in a min-till system. It is possible to improve weed control by increasing the seed rate, rotating crops, using cover crops which will also improve the health of soil, and using non-selective herbicides before drilling. 

Mounted tine seed drill MEGANT for min-till seeding, at work

What is minimum tillage and what are the advantages? 

A min-till system can reduce soil compaction, fuel consumption, operator time and the need for as much fertiliser. It also improves soil health by helping the soil structure to regenerate. However, the right machinery is crucial and using specially designed min-till cultivation equipment and drills is the only way to successfully manage a min-till system. For help and advice contact KUHN today.  

The PROLANDER cultivator with vibrating tines during seedbed preparation

The best minimum tillage machinery 

KUHN can give on-farm advice and demonstrations to help you adapt to a min-till system. Our min-till drills and cultivation equipment have been designed specifically to help farms move to a min-till system. We offer mounted and trailed seed drills including the: 

  • Megant: A mounted tine seed drill with working widths from 4 to 6m 
  • Aurock: A trailed drill with a 6m working width 
  • Espro: A trailed drill with working widths of 3 to 8m  

KUHN also offers a range of cultivation equipment that is well suited to min-till: 

  • Cultimer: A stubble cultivator with 2 (Cultimer M) or 3 (Cultimer L) rows of tines 
  • Prolander: A versatile cultivator range that is available in 6m and 7.5m wide trailed models  
  • Optimer: The Optimer range of stubble cultivators comes in three types. The Optimer +, Optimer L and Optimer XL