There remain significant technological as well as socio-economic and behavioural challenges to conservation tillage adoption despite its acknowledged carbon mitigation potential. In this paper, we distinguish between the factors that influence partial, complete and continued adoption of conservation tillage in a rural region of north western China. As complete benefits of conservation tillage to the private farmers as well as society are realised only through continued adoption, it is important to identify and distinguish the factors that promote long-term adoption of conservation tillage from the ones that lead only to short-term adoption. Using a bivariate probit analysis, we find that government subsidy programmes and households' wealth play a key role in the continued adoption of conservation tillage practices. Poorer farmers and those whose neighbours have abandoned conservation tillage are more likely to give up on conservation tillage, after having adopted initially. Geographical factors and fragmented land holdings encourage only partial adoption, even under government subsidies. We recommend the introduction of smaller and portable farming machines combined with long-term subsidy schemes. When faced with government budget constraints that make prolonged subsidy for all difficult, targeting the farmer groups according to their socio-economic traits is crucial.