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University of Minnesota Extension

History of tillage and tillage research

Understanding soil tillage


Philosophy and knowledge of soil

In the United States, farmers, engineers and researchers have played a vital role in shaping the history and progression of the tillage implements available today.

Tillage tools used here have varied as much or more than most other regions of the world. Although many early activities were heavily influenced by Europe, substantial breakthroughs in soil management have been the product of work in the United States.

inside a modern tractor cab - several computer screens, monitors and control levers.
Figure 12: Monitors in a tractor cab provide precise information about a field’s nutrients, seed and location.

Tillage tools

Before Europeans settled North America, Native Americans developed an array of handheld digging sticks using their natural resources. Later, settlers and Native Americans began to integrate horse- and oxen-drawn implements initially made from wood and then from iron and steel in following decades.

Mechanization replaced draft animals and paralleled the development of the oil and gas industry.

Today, mechanized implements are becoming wired up with sensors, circuits and screens coupled with hydraulics. This allows producers to monitor progress in real time without leaving the tractor’s cab, except for the initial adjustments to the field’s current soil moisture conditions (Figure 12).


Aaron Daigh, soil scientist, North Dakota State University and Jodi DeJong-Hughes, UMN Extension educator

Reviewed in 2021

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