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No-tillers recognize the fact that the millions of microbes living underground in their fields are continually improving soil quality by cycling nutrients and turning residues into organic matter.
Results from a recent University of Illinois evaluation of 62 research studies that looked at the impact tillage has on the underground animals in your soils back up these claims.
In these comparisons, no-till had the largest soil microbial biomass and enzymatic activity. Yet, what was just as surprising was the fact that chisel plowing was equal to no-till in terms of producing a large amount of underground microbial biomass.
Illinois graduate student Stacy Zuber says no-till and to a lesser degree, conservation tillage, maintains or improves soil quality by preserving both soil structure and moisture. By doing so, the increased soil organic matter provides a valuable habitat for soil microbes.
“Soil microbes are the workhorses of the soil,” she says. “They break down crop residues and release nitrogen (N), phosphorus, potassium and other nutrients back to the soil so they’re plant-available. We want a healthy, diverse microbial community so those processes can happen and improve our soils.”
In the past, many of the studies that linked tillage intensity and microbial activity were conducted on farms rather than in research plots. While most studies found more soil microbes with no-till, the results vary due to different environmental factors, soil type, tillage tools used, tillage depth, N rate, temperatures, rainfall and the presence of cover crops.