Surface tillage in agriculture | what is the purpose?

Whether you have a vegetable garden in your back yard or a 6000 hectare farm used for cropping, regularly cultivating the soil is vital for getting the best results. Most importantly, it can break down the soil to provide a perfect preparation for sowing seeds.

However, preparing the soil for seeds is not the only use of soil tillage in agriculture.

In this post, we’ll look at all the main purposes of surface tillage and harrows in agriculture. We’ll also provide a brief history of the practice.

What is the purpose of surface tillage in agriculture

Preparing a farm’s soil for seeds is not the only purpose of surface tillage. However, it’s perhaps the most important reason.

  • Cultivating the soil to a fine tilth, or in other words breaking up the soil, provides an ideal environment for seeds to germinate. Of course, soil preparation is only one key aspect for seed germination. Seeds need the right conditions, the right amount of moisture and the right temperatures to germinate.
  • When we surface tillage the soil on our farms, we’re also disturbing any weeds that are in the soil. Disturbing the weeds can help kill them and reduce the competition they provide crops, for water, sunlight, nutrients and space.
  • Surface tillage in agriculture will help loosen and aerate the soil and reduce compaction. This can help make it easier for rain and irrigation to reach the root zone of the crop, where the moisture is needed.
  • Using discs, ploughs, harrows on large tracts of land, or even sticks and hand hoes in small areas, can improve the physical condition of the soil.
  • Tillage can also be used to break down the residue from the previous crop.
  • Similarly, it can be used to mix crop residue, organic material, green manure, other manures and fertilisers into the soil.
  • In wet conditions, conducting surface tillage in an agricultural environment can help to dry out the soil. This is important when preparing soil for seeds, as seeds may not germinate and may not survive if the soil is too wet.
  • Surface tillage can also help detoxify soil, and control pests, pathogens and rodents.

The result of surface tillage in agriculture is what is known as tilth. This is the loose, crumbly, friable soil that cropping agriculture is trying to achieve.

It’s Nirvana for farmers!

What is the purpose of surface tillage in agriculture

Alternatives to surface tillage in agriculture

There are some alternatives to surface tillage in agriculture. An obvious one is the use of herbicides to replace, or in conjunction with, tillage as the main tool to remove weeds from the soil.

However, most agriculture environments rely on surface tillage for the success of their crops. Sometimes, the tried and true methods are still the best.

That doesn’t mean there haven’t been improvements, in the past and in recent times.

For example, cultivation of the soil was used for centuries in Europe before surface tillage was used in large areas in Australia. But the conditions in Europe are generally different to our agricultural lands. Soils are deeper, rainfall higher and temperatures cooler.

In the past, regular and intensive cultivation in Australia has degraded the soil. But we’ve learnt. Today, every farmer has a much better understanding of how to conduct surface tillage in their agricultural environments. To improve the soil for today’s crops and tomorrows.

They also have available better equipment, such as Bute’s range of products. Tillage tools that improve efficiency and effectiveness on farms.

The history of surface tillage in agriculture

Visit any cropping farm and you’ll see a variety of tools that are used to cultivate the soil.

This includes rippers, ploughs, disc ploughs, harrows and hoes. These days, there’s a good chance you’ll some Bute Discs products as well, like our Bute 625, Bute 850 and the Bute Dog Leg Harrow.

But, of course, it hasn’t always been this way.

Before the industrial revolution, people used digging sticks and other rudimentary hand tools to cultivate the soil. It may not have been over the large tracts of lands that many Australian farmers conduct tilling, but it was still hard work, none-the-less.

A simple wooden plough was then invented that was strapped to the backs of animals. The first known record of surface tillage using this method is in the 12th century, but it’s thought to have been done long before this.

The simple blade of the plough was then replaced with different shapes, styles and configurations, so that different depths of tilling could be achieved, over a larger area.

From around the mid-1800s, ploughs pulled by animals began to be replaced by steam powered units, with large multi-furrow ploughs. Then in the early 1900s the wheeled tractor slowly began to take over.

There has been significant progressions of surface tillage methods since then, and businesses like Bute Discs lead the way. It will be interesting to see what methods and machinery farmers will be using in another 100 years!

It’s important to note some farmers still use rudimentary methods, such as sticks and hand hoes, to cultivate their agricultural lands. In some cases this is because their lands are inaccessible to large equipment. Rocky soils and severe poverty are other reasons.

History of Bute Discs

The history of surface tillage methods and machinery is interesting, and so too is the history of Bute Discs.

Perhaps not surprisingly, our story began in farming. It happened way back in 1890 when the Paterson family bought a farm near Bute, South Australia.

In the 1990s we started to get involved in engineering and produced our first tillage tools in 1998. The first tool was the dog leg harrow, which featured the hook and eye system that replaced welding.

In 2009, we developed our first disc chain system for better and easier surface tilling of the soil. The second soon followed. This was followed by our third and current disc chain system in 2018.

What does the future hold? One thing is for sure, we won’t rest on our laurels. New and innovative surface tillage products for agriculture will be coming soon.

It’s in our DNA!

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