Reducing tillage on organic farms – new research project started

In September 2011 the Organic Research Centre began work on a new part Defra-funded project – “Reduced tillage and green manures for sustainable organic cropping systems” (acronym TILMAN-ORG). Over the three year project the ORC will collaborate with 10 European countries and with Newcastle University in the UK. The research is being led by the Swiss Research Institute for Biological Agriculture (FIBL).

The project’s overall aim is to make use of the benefits of reduced tillage and green manures under organic farming conditions. Reduced tillage and green manures have the potential to improve soil structure and biology that can be damaged after the use of traditional mouldboard ploughing. Trials have shown that reduced tillage can increase levels of soil organic matter, improve soil stability, increase soil biological activity and reduce fuel consumption.

But technical difficulties, most notably in weed control, mean that abandoning the plough can be challenging for organic farmers. To make use of the fuel savings and soil conservation associated with reduced tillage, it therefore needs to be adapted to the special conditions in organic agriculture.
The TILMAN-ORG project will develop optimum techniques of reduced tillage and green manures for organic systems. 24 scientific trials across 15 research partners in 10 European countries will be conducted together with case studies and farmer interviews. New and existing data will be collected and collated to facilitate the design of optimised arable rotations with improved soil quality and greenhouse gas emissions, optimised weed control, enhanced nutrient use efficiency and improved crop performance.

ORC’s role is to monitor an on-farm trial at Duchy Home Farm, where conventional ploughing is compared with the use of a reduced tillage machine (the Ecodyn cultivator). The trial that was started by Duchy Home Farm in 2010 in collaboration with the Institute of Organic Training and Advice (IOTA) will run until 2014 under TILMAN-ORG.

Dr Thomas Döring leads ORC’s part of the project: “The results that we have obtained over past two years are very encouraging, especially in terms of reduced fuel use. What we need now is more long term monitoring of the weed situation and the soil conditions. And it is clear that there is some way to go in terms of developing the machinery.”

We will continue the investigations into the agronomic and ecological effects of using reduced tillage, with a special focus on weeds.



Further can be obtained from Dr Thomas Doering or Dr Bruce Pearce.

The Organic Research Centre based at Elm Farm near Newbury is the UK’s leading independent research centre dedicated to the development of sustainable food systems based on organic/agro-ecological principles. Further information on our activities can be found on this website. A key focus of ORC’s research is organic crop production, funded by Defra, EU and other sources including charitable donations. For further information, see our crop production page.

An article summarising previous work in this area is: Crowley O, Showering J, Döring TF. 2010. Saving fuel with non-inversion tillage. The Organic Research Centre Bulletin 103 (PDF 1.8MB): 4-5.

The TILMAN project is funded as part of the 1st Call on Research within Core Organic 2, with funding from National Agencies including Defra for work in the UK. Further information on this funding programme can be found at

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