Soil management by shallow mouldboard ploughing in The Netherlands

J.K. Kouwenhoven, U.D. Perdok, G.J.M. Oomen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


The structure of the soil in the arable layer is controlled by tillage, soil biota activities and weathering, whereas the structure below this layer is mainly the result of the activities of soil biota. Organic farmers tend to minimise the depth of the main tillage operation to encourage soil biota to create a soil structure with continuous biopores and a well crumbled topsoil. The best main tillage operation for preventive weed control, especially important in organic farming, is mouldboard ploughing. The shallow ploughing experiments described in this paper were conducted to ascertain the minimum ploughing depth for an ecologically accountable, sustainable tillage system with good weed control, good land qualities (in terms of workable days, aeration and soil moisture conditions) and finally with good yields. The "ecoplough" used for shallow ploughing was developed by Rumptstad Industries to meet the requirements of relatively shallow ploughing with good soil inversion for weed control. The plough has seven or eight bottoms for ploughing depths of 0.12–0.20 m, a working width of 2.1 m and a working speed of 1.7 m s-1. Its width is such that the tractor with wide low-pressure tyres runs on top of the land. After using the plough for 6 years on Luvisols (>200 gkg-1<2 m) in the IJsselmeer polders and on Luvisols (120–160 gkg-1<2 m) in polders near the northern coast of The Netherlands, it was found that compared with conventional ploughing, shallow ploughing required less energy and labour and produced a relatively smooth surface. The latter facilitates the preparation of a seedbed consisting of relatively fine, strong, stable and moist aggregates. Organic matter, soil biota and nutrients were concentrated higher in the profile, influencing the workability of the soil, the growth of weeds and the growth of crops. Most of the yields were similar to yields after conventional ploughing, but weed populations increased when ploughing depth was <0.2 m. It was concluded that for organic farming on "active" soils (soils subject to shrink/swell with >200 g kg-1<2 m), shallow ploughing seems to be the best reduced tillage system. It has several advantages. The main factor determining the minimum ploughing depth is control of weeds, especially of perennials.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-139
JournalSoil & Tillage Research
Publication statusPublished - 2002

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