Reduced tillage or conservation tillage is a practice of minimising soil disturbance and allowing crop residue or stubble to remain on the ground instead of being thrown away or incorporated into the soil. Reduced tillage practices may progress from reducing the number of tillage passes to stopping tillage completely (zero tillage).
The technique has found some practitioners in India, specially in Punjab and other northern and north-western states for the wheat crop. It is becoming popular because of the direct economic benefits it provides farmers. With less tilling, farmers save on machinery use, fuel, labour and their own time. No tillage is also an important part of natural farming popularised by Masanobu Fukuoka, practiced as rishi kheti by many farmers across India. It is possible on any chemical-free farm with a balanced agro-ecosystem and sensible cropping practices.
Reducing tillage is important from the viewpoint of environmental-farming for a number of reasons. The cover of crop residue helps prevent soil erosion by water and air, thus conserving valuable top soil. Soil structure improves because heavy machinery (which causes soil compaction) is not used and soil tilth is not tampered with artificially. With earthworms not being routinely disturbed by deep tillage, their numbers increase bringing with them the accompanying benefits of better soil aeration and improved soil fertility. Microbial activity in soil also increases for the same reason. Another important environmental effect of reduced tillage is the reduction in use of fossil fuels on the farm.