Stages of No-Till

No-till is not just a change in farming practices. It’s a change in mindset. It’s a change in philosophy. It’s a change in tradition. And it doesn’t happen overnight. Mark Watson, who chairs the Panhandle No Till Partnership knows, because as a producer in dry western Nebraska, he has been undergoing those changes for the past 20 years. Watson and others like him across the region now use Continuous No Till practices.

Through Continuous No Till, they are seeing the improvements it’s made in their soil, living and bottom line. The footprint they leave behind on the land is less because of the reduced amount of fuel, fertilizer and (in the case of irrigated land), irrigation water needed to produce their crops.  They’ve changed their mind about conventional tillage methods, and through the PNTP share the experiences they’ve gained.

It is our belief that if you equip yourself with a thorough understanding of the best agronomic practices available and the principals of water infiltration into the soil, then you will arrive at the realization that continuous no-tillage is the best method to achieve high-yield, sustainable agriculture.

The World’s most advanced no-till researchers and organizations contend that continuous not-till progresses through four stages:
Stage One:

  • Initialization (0-5 years) – this level is the basic, primary, or fundamental stage wherein the beginning processes start their transformation from low soil organic matter and low residues to begin regenerating soil structure and an increase in microbial activity. This stage requires additional nitrogen.

Stage Two:

  • Transition (6-10 years) – represents a shift, passage or transformation into the next level of no-till. Soil organic matter accumulates, residues increase, soil aggregation and soil microbial activity elevates. Phosphorus accumulation, nitrogen immobilization and greater mineralization are also experienced.

Stage Three:

  • Consolidation (11-20 years) – a strengthening, solidification and/or fortification featuring increased carbon accumulation, residues and additional available water in the soil. This is accompanied by nitrogen mineralization and greater immobilization with an increase in cation exchange capacity and greater nutrient cycling.

Stage Four:

  •   Maintenance (+20 years)– sustaining, continuance, upholding or preservation best describes this final stage wherein a continuous flow of nitrogen and carbon and high residues are common. Greater available water in the soil and high nutrient cycling with increased nitrogen and phosphorus attainability are achieved.


Source:  Adapted from João Carlos Moraes Sá, 2003