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Water Infiltration Insights For Tilled vs. No-Till SoilWater Infiltration Insights For Tilled vs. No-Till Soil

Think logically before drawing conclusions where water movement involved.

Tom Bechman 1

March 14, 2012

2 Min Read

Put loose soil in a jar to represent tilled, conventionally-worked land. Then put no-till soil in a jar next to it. Have catch pans underneath of both jars. Which one will collect water first in the catch basin?

It may sound like a trick question, but it's not. Barry Fisher uses this demonstration as part of his pitch to help farmers realize that soil health is important, and that reduced tillage, especially long-term no-till, is a prime way to achieve improved soil health. Fisher is an agronomist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. He is assigned to help promote no-till and conservation tillage across the state.


The answer is that water will drip out of the no-till soil first, he says. That's because it has more pore space that is still open. As soon as water hits the loose, conventionally tilled soil, the downward force of the water, and it would be the same for raindrops hitting the soil, pushed down and closes pores. The keeps water from moving through the profile. In fact, it can take a long time for water to penetrate through even a few inches of soil in that situation, he says.

Conversely, try this question. If it rains, which field will have better infiltration, the no-till field or the tilled field? Infiltration refers to how quickly water moves into the soil after a rain.

Hands down, it will move into the soil better in the no-till field, Fisher says. Improved infiltration of water is a plus for no-till. It not only helps prevent soil erosion because soil particles aren't detached as water ponds on top, but it also helps build up water reserves for later.

That's why you often see water ponding on the surface of tilled fields during or just after a big rain storm, he notes. Typically, water is slower to pond and quicker to get away in a no-till field, unless there is some unusual drainage issue that would be an obstacle no matter what type of tillage was used.

About the Author(s)

Tom Bechman 1

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farm

Tom Bechman is an important cog in the Farm Progress machinery. In addition to serving as editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer, Tom is nationally known for his coverage of Midwest agronomy, conservation, no-till farming, farm management, farm safety, high-tech farming and personal property tax relief. His byline appears monthly in many of the 18 state and regional farm magazines published by Farm Progress.

"I consider it my responsibility and opportunity as a farm magazine editor to supply useful information that will help today's farm families survive and thrive," the veteran editor says.

Tom graduated from Whiteland (Ind.) High School, earned his B.S. in animal science and agricultural education from Purdue University in 1975 and an M.S. in dairy nutrition two years later. He first joined the magazine as a field editor in 1981 after four years as a vocational agriculture teacher.

Tom enjoys interacting with farm families, university specialists and industry leaders, gathering and sifting through loads of information available in agriculture today. "Whenever I find a new idea or a new thought that could either improve someone's life or their income, I consider it a personal challenge to discover how to present it in the most useful form, " he says.

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