It wasn't that long ago that farmers prepared their fields for planting by tilling the soil repeatedly and creating a pristine seed bed, much like preparing a backyard garden. Today, reduced tillage--including no tillage at all--is considered a best management practice in an effort to preserve soil moisture, reduce erosion and improve soil health. Leaving stalks, corncobs and leaves in the field--known as "residue"--is an important strategy in sustainable farming.
"Another advantage of residue management is that it will lower the soil temperature in the hot summer months by 10 to 15 degrees. By keeping it cooler, the plant has a better chance of producing a good crop for you," Shaffert added. Schaffert says that one indicator that his soil is getting healthier is an increase in the earthworm population. "By not tilling the soil, we're not destroying their home," he said. "Earthworms create pockets and channels in the soil that allow moisture to percolate into the soil and stay there. Where you have earthworms, you're going to have good till in the soil--good, good, soil."