Do trials really prove the benefit of lo-till?

13 August 2001

Do trials really prove the benefit of lo-till?

Are you aware of any independent trials comparing yields of crops established by lo till with “conventional” plough and power harrow methods? A small reduction in yield would rapidly eliminate savings made in establishment costs – particularly on light land.

If youre looking for some establishment trials, look no further than FWi. In the Arable Event, run by Velcourt, a direct-drilling and ploughed system are being pitched against each other.

With only days until harvest, you can hardly tell the difference, but the direct-drilled plot cost half as much to establish. Clickhere for more.

From:Tom Allen-Stevens, arable editor, FWi

There are many independent trials that look at the benefits of lo-till, I would look to Vic Jordans LIFE project at Long Ashton and recent trials by ARC.

My own conclusions are that in the first few years (3 – 5 depending on soil type) yields are not statistically different.

As soil structure improves, yields seem to become more consistent with lo-till; you dont necessarily get a higher yield with lo-till over ploughing, but you dont get the low yields that sometime happen with dry springs and drought conditions in ploughed land.

This effect is noted all over the world with lo-till systems. I believe it is tied up with increasing organic matter in the soil. This reduces growing stresses on the plant, be it lack of water or nutrient during any part of the growing season.

Farmers who have been in the system for a few years note that take-all is less of a problem, for example. I believe this is due to having well consolidated soils which are part of the system.

Its a traditional method of take-all control which increases the bug activity – the natural take-all killers in the soil. All of these factors are much less evident in a conventional system.

From:Steve Townsend

I think just about every organisation and company with an interest in lo-till has carried out some form of trial work. I would suggest you contact The UK Soil Management Initiative (visit their website on They will be able to point you in the direction of the most relevant trial work for your needs.

However I would suggest that the only relevant trials for your faming system will be those carried out on your own farm, hiring in the necessary equipment, thus saving you any commitment on capital expenditure. We did this for three seasons before completely making the change.

There is a steep learning curve and there is most definitely a risk involved in changing to a different system. If you have system that is working for you why change?

On certain soil types, ploughing is still very much the best option. Interestingly my greatest critics are those who have been lo-tilling and practicing ICM for years. It grieves them that they are having their competitive edge removed by others converting to the system!

From:Jim Bullock

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