Summary and Keywords
Soil tilth is a dynamic and multifaceted concept that refers to the suitability of a soil for planting and growing crops. A soil with good tilth is “usually loose, friable and well granulated”; a condition that can also be described as the soil’s having a good “self-mulching” ability. On the other hand soils with poor tilth are usually dense (compacted), with hard, blocky, or massive structural characteristics. Poor soil tilth is generally associated with compaction, induced by wheel traffic, animal trampling, and/or to natural soil consolidation (i.e., so-called hard-setting behavior). The soil-tilth concept dates back to the early days of arable farming and has been addressed in soil-science literature since the 1920s. Soil tilth is generally associated with soil’s physical properties and processes rather than the more holistic concepts of soil quality and soil health. Improved soil tilth has been associated with deep and intensive tillage, as those practices were traditionally considered the primary method for creating a suitable soil condition for plant growth. Therefore, for millennia there has been a strong focus both in practice and in research on developing tillage tools that create suitable growing conditions for different crops, soil types, and climatic conditions. Deep and intensive tillage may be appropriate for producing a good, short-term tilth, but may also lead to severe long-term degradation of the soil structure. The failure of methods relying on physical manipulation as means of sustaining good tilth has increased the recognition given to the important role that soil biota have in soil-structure formation and stabilization. Soil biology has only received substantial attention in soil science during the last few decades. One result of this is that this knowledge is now being used to optimize soil management through strategies such as more diverse rotations, cover crops, and crop-residue management, with these being applied either as single management components or more preferably as part of an integrated system (i.e., either conservation agriculture or organic farming).Traditionally, farmers have evaluated soil tilth qualitatively in the field. However, a number of quantitative or semi-quantitative procedures for assessing soil tilth has been developed over the last 80 years. These procedures vary from simply determining soil cloddiness to more detailed evaluations whereby soil’s physical properties (e.g., porosity, strength, and aggregate characteristics) are combined with its consistency and organic-matter measurements in soil-tilth indices. Semi-quantitative visual soil-evaluation methods have also been developed for field evaluation of soil tilth, and are now used in many countries worldwide.
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