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Non-tillage Farming & Crop Disease Incidence

The current interest in no-tillage and minimal tillage farming has been accompanied by speculation on the effects this may have on plant diseases. For example could no-till systems increase or decrease air-borne, stubble-based or root diseases?

No-tillage systems minimise the amount of soil disturbance and there is virtually no inversion of the surface soil with deeper soil. In addition, there is significantly more surface residues than with conventional ploughing. Over time there will also be a gradual increase in soil organic matter and this may be accompanied by changes in soil biota. All of these factors may affect plant pathogens.

Research has suggested that effects of no-tillage on disease depends on the use of rotations.

With sound rotations disease does not seem to be increased under no-tillage or minimal-tillage systems. However, without rotations there may be an increase in airborne and stubble borne diseases. The effects of no-tillage appear to vary with disease. For example:

  • In Western Australia they have found that cultivations are the best means of controlling Rhizoctonia and this is in compatible with no-tillage systems.
  • Some reports have suggested that common root rot in wheat increases with cultivations and so there may be benefits of no-tillage. However, these is a paucity of research to prove this theory.
  • No tillage is considered to offer reasonable control of Take-all but effects on crop yields are inconsistent.
  • Lodging disease in wheat may be up to 28% worse in wheat under no-tillage systems.
  • Some nematode populations have been reported to be increased under no-tillage systems.
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