Low-Input Ridge Tillage System for the Corn Belt
A few innovative farmers have taken the lead in establishing and experimenting with ridge
tillage systems as an alternative to conventional or no-till systems. However, research has been
generally limited to small plots which often do not show all advantages (and possible
limitations) of the system. On farms with ridge tillage, controlled traffic keeps heavy axle loads
off the permanent rows, minimizing yield losses form compaction. Additionally, ridge tillage is
gaining stature as a low-input alternative to no-till on moderate slopes because of improved
1) Establish a permanent low-input ridge tillage system on 175 acres of continuous corn and
corn-soybean rotation at the site of the Ohio State Farm Science Review. a) Compare ridge
tillage directly to conventional and no-till systems, b) Use commercial farm size equipment that
will appeal to the majority of farmers, c) Reduce the use of inorganic pesticides, and d) Reduce
the use of inorganic fertilizers.
2) Educate farmers in Ohio and the North Central region about low-input ridge tillage. a)
Schedule programs during Farm Science Review, b) Host national field days at cultivation time
for those considering switching to ridge tillage and in late August for farmers already practicing
ridge tillage, and c) Publish information in Extension bulletins, local newspapers and the
national farm press.
In June of the 1988 planting season, a ridge till cultivator was leased, and ridges were created on
about 50 acres of corn at the Ohio Farm Science Review site. In 1989 a total of 165 acres were
ridged, and in 1990, 105 acres of corn and 60 acres of soybeans were ridged. About 700 soil
samples from ridged and non-ridged fields were taken and then analyzed using an automated soil
physical properties measurement system.
Preliminary results indicated that for a conventionally tilled soil, a 15 percent increase in bulk
density resulted in a six hundred fold decrease in air permeability. Air permeability for the top
eight inches of untrafficked soil was reduced five to ten times by one pass of a 17 ton load.
Multiple passes, not unusual with conventional tillage, reduced permeability at even greater
Potential Contributions and Practical Applications:
The majority of ridge till farmers reduce herbicides by relying on cultivation for weed control
between rows. Adoption of ridge tillage on only 10 percent (roughly 10 million acres) of the
corn/soybean land in the North Central Region would reduce herbicide use by about 20 million
pounds of active ingredient. Net financial savings would total about $100 million per year. The
potential benefits in the Corn Belt greatly exceed this amount because agronomic research and
economic analysis show that ridge tillage can be profitable on at least half of the corn/soybean
land in this region.