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Conservation Cropping

Land & Water Conservation

Conservation Cropping

Conservation tillage is defined as a system that leaves enough crop residue on the soil surface after planting to provide 30% soil cover, the amount needed to reduce erosion below tolerance levels (SSSA). Today, however, most conservation tillage practitioners aim for greater soil cover because of additional benefits of crop residue. Cover crops are citical to producing this residue and have the potential to maximize tillage benefits.


  • reduced soil erosion
  • decreased labor and energy inputs
  • increased availability of water for crop protection
  • improved soil quality

Cover crop benefit conservation tillage systems by:

  • producing crop residue that increase soil organic matter and help control weeds
  • improving soil structure and increasing infiltration
  • protecting the soil surface and sissipating raindrop energy
  • reducing the velocity of water moving over the soil surface
  • anchoring soil and adding carbon deep in the soil profile

Accumulation of surface organic matter results in:

  • increased aggregate stability, which helps to increase soil water infiltration and resist in erosion
  • improved nutrient cycling and water quality, due to keeping nutrients in the field
  • increased biological activity, which improves nutrient cycling and can influence diseases and pests

Additional benefits from conservation tillage systems compared to intensive or conventional tillage systems:

  • reduced labor and time -- one or two trips to prepare land and plant compared to three or more reduces labor and fuel costs by 50% or more
  • reduced machinery wear -- fewers trips means fewer repairs
  • increased wildlife -- crop resideues provide shelter and food for wildlife, such as game birds and small animals, which can results in additional farm revenue