Benefits of CTF

There are many benefits associated with CTF and they all help to deliver the two most important factors in farming operations - INCREASED PROFIT and IMPROVED SUSTAINABILITY

These are delivered by improving soil health, which in turn lowers costs and increases crop returns but it also results in improved environmental conditions.

Lower costs and increased returns are brought about by:

  1. Lower energy for cultivation. This happens because the soil has not been squashed down by wheels and it therefore lifts up more easily. It also means that the soil is in a more natural state and easily breaks down into a seedbed (see below). In many cases no cultivation at all is needed to create a seedbed. On average, a 50% saving in fuel per tonne of crop harvested is likely.
    The result of ploughing on conventionally trafficked soil The result of ploughing on non-trafficked soil

    The result of ploughing on conventionally trafficked (left) and non-trafficked (right) soil. The non-trafficked soil is more friable and is easily formed into a seedbed. (Photo: Silsoe Research Institute)

  2. Lower energy for driving over the soil. The wheels of machines are always running on compact traffic lanes – this minimises rolling resistance and makes field access easier.
  3. Lower machinery investment. With shallower, less intensive and lower energy demanding tillage operations, smaller tractors and machines can be used. CTF farmers find they can buy smaller tractors than they had before.
  4. Better seedbeds. With no compaction damage, less cloddy seedbeds can easily be produced with very little loss of moisture. These benefits result in rapid and even germination of the crop.
    The result of ploughing on conventionally trafficked soil The result of ploughing on non-trafficked soil

    Spring oats sown with conventional methods (left) compared with a CTF system. These plots were sown on the same day and photographed subsequently on the same day. (Photo: Silsoe Research Institute)

  5. The ability to use minimum and zero till systems without the inherent problem of surface compaction (in the top 10 cm). Most conventional systems suffer from slow initial crop growth due to poor topsoil structure – often made worse by fitting low pressure tyres because a larger area is compacted on each pass. CTF eliminates the problem of poor crop growth due to compaction and significantly reduces the problem of water run-off. The amount of compaction that can build up, even under these low intensity traffic systems, is graphically illustrated in this video clip of prising out soil with a fork. These two fields on a Hanslope clay soil are adjacent to each other and had the same 20 cm deep ploughing history until September 2004 when both were converted to no till. However, one was put into controlled traffic, the other continued in random traffic for harvest and sowing and tramlines for chemical applications. Grain trailers are confined to the headlands in both fields. This high topsoil strength reflects the research carried out by Radford et al (Soil & Tillage Research, 97 (2007) 249-255) who found that it took at least 3 years for a Vertisol to recover from compaction, even in the top 100 mm (4 inches) of the profile. In a practical system such as the one described here, it is almost certain that the soil will have been re-compacted by the harvester or the drill within 3 years.
  6. Improved crop yields. Research and practice have shown that yields from non-trafficked soil are 9-16% greater than where wheel compaction is present. In areas of low rainfall, additional cropping may be possible because more water makes its way into the profile.
  7. Improved soil structure. Not only does better structure allow seedbeds to be created with very little input, it also improves the performance of the soil. This results in several things:
    1. In wet conditions, drainage is improved and crops grow away more quickly when soil temperature allows.
    2. Where rainfall is intense, more water is taken in by the soil. This in turn makes more available in times of drought, but it also reduces the risk of erosion and soil loss. Transport of soil off the land can be extremely costly, not only in terms of fertility loss, but also in terms of litigation if it blocks roads or pollutes water courses.
    3. Where rainfall is limited, little soil disturbance means that little water is lost due to cultivation.
    4. Saving on seed – with existing systems we often have to increase the number of seeds sown to allow for poor seedbed conditions, and in years of good germination we end up with far too many plants and disease problems; with the proposed system we can sow almost to a ‘stand’.
    5. Less crop lost to slugs – fine seedbeds tend to deter slugs and the crop also remains vulnerable for a shorter period, both in the form of germinating seeds and in its early stages of growth.
  8. Improved field efficiency. Because the whole of the cropped area is precisely marked out, there is little chance of under- or overlap. Many wide cultivation tools are often working with up to 0.5 m overlap. With an 8 m cultivator, this means that over 6% of energy and time are wasted.
  9. More reliable field access. Well managed wheelways mean that operations can often go ahead sooner or for longer periods.
  10. Increased potential and accuracy for global positioning systems. This arises partly because the fixed grid system can be used as a fall-back when signals are lost (e.g. which direction did the machine go in when it was last in this position in the field?), partly because the permanent wheelways should provide a more stable working environment and finally because the more amenable soil conditions and shallower working are less likely to shift the machine off course.

Improved environmental conditions are brought about by:

  1. Improved fertilizer use efficiency. Research from around the world has shown that the uptake of fertiliser is improved by around 15%.
  2. Potential to retain more organic matter and soil living organisms. A soil that is little damaged by wheels or tracks tends to need little in the way of cultivation, and it is these activities which are most likely to oxidise more organic matter and kill soil living animals.
  3. Improved gaseous exchange. Better soil structure means that conditions will be more favourable for gases that are absorbed into the soil (e.g. methane) and to prevent harmful gases being produced through anaerobic condtions, such as nitrous oxide and methane, both of which are particularly damaging to the environment.
  4. Improved water storage. The greater number and larger size of pores in a non-trafficked soil means that more water infiltrates and is captured within the profile. This means that not only is there less potential for run-off and erosion but also that there will be more plant available water.