Abstract Operational factors influencing the performance of ploughing and non-ploughing techniques are discussed and ways through which performance can be improved are identified. With good implement adjustment and similar working depth ranges, the cost and output differences between the different tillage techniques are minimal, when the same final soil condition is produced. The most critical factor influencing cost and output is the working depth of the system. In ploughing systems, most attention needs to be given to packing the furrows close together whilst ploughing. Subsequent work on uneven ploughing can be considerably improved by a levelling operation immediately behind the plough. With tine-based techniques, poor implement adjustment leads to reduced tillage efficiencies through excessive loosening, surface clod production and uneven surfaces. Disc-based techniques require minimal operator skill; smearing and compaction produced under moist conditions at working depth can be alleviated by running tines slightly deeper behind the discs. Operator restraint to avoid over-working soil with powered systems would avoid many subsequent problems of soil slumping and surface waterlogging.