Strategic tillage in conservation agricultural systems of north-eastern Australia: why, where, when and how?

Changes in the soil water content following disc tillage to a depth of 0–0.1 m in a Black Vertosol at Felton, with rainfall events indicated.


Farmers often resort to an occasional tillage (strategic tillage (ST)) operation to combat constraints of no-tillage (NT) farming systems. There are conflicting reports regarding impacts of ST and a lack of knowledge around when, where and how ST is implemented to maximise its benefits without impacting negatively on soil and environment. We established 14 experiments during 2012–2015 on farms with long-term history of continuous NT to (i) quantify the associated risks and benefits to crop productivity, soil and environmental health and (ii) explore key factors that need to be considered in decisions to implement ST in an otherwise NT system. Results showed that introduction of ST reduced weed populations and improved crop productivity and profitability in the first year after tillage, with no impact in subsequent 4 years. Soil properties were not impacted in Vertosols; however, Sodosols and Dermosols suffered short-term negative soil health impacts (e.g. increased bulk density). A Sodosol and a Dermosol also posed higher risks of runoff and associated loss of nutrients and sediment during intense rainfall after ST. The ST reduced plant available water in the short term, which could result in unreliable sowing opportunities for the following crop especially in semi-arid climate that prevails in north-eastern Australia. The results show that generally, there were no significant differences in crop productivity and soil health between tillage implements and tillage frequencies between ST and NT. The study suggests that ST can be a viable strategy to manage constraints of NT systems, with few short-term soil and environmental costs and some benefits such as short-term farm productivity and profitability and reduced reliance on herbicides.

Environmental Science and Pollution Research, 25 (2018)
Yunru (Chloe) Lai
Yunru (Chloe) Lai
Research Fellow - Soil and Crop Modelling

My research interests include pedometrics, empirical and mechanistic soil and crop modelling.