Minimal Tillage: Try Before You Buy

Minimising tillage was one of the main recommendations of the Sugar Yield Decline Joint Venture and there is continuing evidence from trials that support it adoption.

Minimal tillage has several advantages over traditional cultivation methods including:

  •  Reduced cost and time of operations without yield loss
  • Ease of working up ground in short weather windows
  • Improved soil structure, moisture retention and infiltration
  • Longer retention of organic matter
  • Encourages build-up of beneficial soil organism

Zonal Tillage

Zonal tillage is a variation on minimal tillage with all the same advantages and even more cost and time savings.

Zonal tilling enables you to separate well-managed, healthy soil in the crop zone from the heavily impacted soil in the traffic zones, which improves the long-term soil and root function in that crop zone.

New Equipment

WTSIP has invested in two new minimal tillage implements, which it is making available for growers in the Wet Tropics to hire for a small nominal fee so they can test it on their own farm's soil types and conditions without needing to invest in the equipment themselves.

The two new tools are a variation on zonal tillage with even less less soil disturbance.

What are they?

Both implements use straight, vertical coulters cut to a 'saw-blade' design. They cut any crop or cover-crop residues and penetrate the ground to approx. 200mm, taking a portion of the residues with it and pinning it below ground – all with very minimal disturbance to the soil surface.

They have the potential to be used in multiple variations and combinations with other fertilising, cover-crop planting and minimal tillage equipment.

1) Niffty Ag’s P-38 Raised Bed Management Tool

• 12 coulters arranged to work the full width of a cane row/bed.
• Applications:
o Preparation of fallow land for planting of cover-crops
o Incorporation of cover-crop residues prior to cane planting

2) Niffty Ag's P50

• Two gangs of blades/coulters for working specific zones
• Applications:
o Alleviating compaction and incorporating a portion of trash into the stool area in ratoons
o Companion planting of legumes into the cane crop and management of the interspace0020
o Pinning organic matter and allowing excess water to infiltrate quicker in wet conditions


These tools are being used on the Tablelands but they have not been adopted elsewhere int he Wet Tropics.

However, they do have a number of benefits that WTSIP wants to test for other growers. These include:

  •  Low power requirement and quick operation
  • Minimal disturbance to soil surface and trash
  • Possible alleviation of compaction in ratoons (row and interspace)
  • Improved infiltration of excess water
  • Organic matter retained within the soil


The two machines will be available to hire for all growers in the Wet Tropics. One will be based in Innisfail and the other in Ingham but they are portable and come with a trailer and standard operating procedures.

Contact your local WTSIP Extension Officer to find out more. 


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