Ride through the country in the spring and take a look at fields being prepared for the years crops. Your likely to see various types of equipment. Along with the different equipment you’ll see different methods of preparation. Years of trial and error and research has changed the methods used for modern agriculture.
No-till is the practice of spraying down with herbicide a cover crop or current vegetation and planting over the remaining stubble with a drill. This has become the most widely used methods for commercial farms today. It helps prevent soil erosion and leaves higher amounts of organic matter in the soil.
Ridge-Till as the name implies, means planting in ridges. The soil is mounded and crops are planted on top of the ridges. This helps with drainage, and warming the area the crop is planted quicker.
Conventional tillage is the method of using either moldboard plow or chisel plowing to turn greater depths of soil, and leveling it up with a disk or field cultivator, prior to planting.
Using a moldboard plow will let you turn the soil completely over. This helps kill the vegetation and lets you create a deeper soil bed for planting. When using a moldboard plow to prepare your soil, you will have to go back over the field with a disk and perhaps a field cultivator afterwards to be ready for planting your crop.
A chisel plow uses longer knives to break the soil up. This is normally followed by disking to finish breaking up the soil. A similar way to get down deeper today many farmers will use a ripper, long knives that go down deeper to break up compaction in the soil but without turning the soil up. A ripper is similar to a chisel plow but there is usually less knives total, just longer ones. Requiring a much higher HP tractor. This leaves the organic matter on top but providing some of the benefits of going deeper.
A disk or disk harrow is a piece of equipment that using a set of round metal blades to break up the soil. A disk will breakup the soil much better than a chisel or moldboard plow. A field can be planted over a finely disked field without and additional tillage or a grower may finishing it off with a field cultivator or a tiller.
A field cultivator is a finishing implement. Used last prior to planting, it can help bust up larger clumps of soil or to make the field more level before a crop is planted. A field cultivator is used alone or in conjunction with a cultipacker.
A row cultivator is used once a crop is planted. Historically used to weed the crops during the growing season. With the advent of herbicides, field cultivators are used less than they used to be. Organic farms still use field cultivators today in lieu of spraying.
Tilling or rototilling uses spinning blades to turn the soil. A rototiller is used for most backyard gardens and vegetable crops as it leaves the best seedbed for planting by hand or smaller equipment.
Each farm, and field for that matter requires special attention to grow the best crop to it’s best potential. What one farm does wont necessarily work on another and vise-versa.