Straight Talk On Tillage

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Straight Talk On Tillage
As the term vertical tillage becomes more mainstream, clarifying what
makes a practice fit this system is key BY MARGY FISCHER

        or more than two decades, Farm
        Journal Field Agronomist Ken
        Ferrie has worked to under-
        stand how uniform soil density
and adopting a vertical system sets the
stage for higher yields. Today, vertical
tillage is a concept that is well known
across farm country, although it’s not
always well understood.
   “Every tool has a specific range of
things it’s designed to do,” Ferrie
explains. “But vertical tillage is not a
single tool—it’s a system.”

                                                                                                                                         PHOTO: BILL BAUER
   A comprehensive five-year Farm
Journal Test Plot that concluded in
2000 showed that creating and main-
taining uniform soil density leads to
yield increases of up to 27 bu. per acre.     While a field cultivator provides an even seedbed, it leaves a horizontal density
This effort is ongoing as Ferrie contin-      change, as shown by the dotted line, where the root turned as it grew. The key
ues his soil density studies with new         to vertical tillage is to provide an even seedbed and a uniform soil profile.
machinery and changing practices.
   A vertical tillage system involves       field, so wait until later in the growing       rippers, have deep-digging shanks that
understanding the soil profile, tackling    season and you’ll have plenty of roots          fracture compacted layers of soil.
compaction issues, ensuring that each       to evaluate,” Ferrie says.                         “The key is full-width shatter across
pass achieves the goal of the system,          Dig plants to evaluate the root struc-       the primary tillage tool,” Ferrie says.
respecting residue cover and providing      ture. Also, dig a soil pit to look at the       “Many farmers are surprised to learn
a well-prepared seedbed for the planter     entire soil profile and evaluate soil           that they are not achieving the consis-
pass. Simply put, a vertical system         moisture and structure and root                 tency that they assumed.”
means managing the entire soil profile      growth. Sudden changes in those char-              For a tillage pass to provide full-
for uniformity.                             acteristics indicate a soil density change.     width shatter, more digging is required.
   “With a well-managed uniform soil           You can also use a tile probe to find           “When you dig behind your primary
profile, farmers achieve better water       density changes. With even pressure,            tillage tool, you’ll want to make sure
infiltration and drainage, quicker soil     push the probe in and feel for resis-           the soil is fractured from shank to
warm-up for spring planting, efficient      tance as the probe goes down. Be sure           shank,” explains Farm Journal Associ-
use of nutrients, more drought toler-       to pay close attention as the probe             ate Field Agronomist Missy Bauer. “If
ance, and uniform growth and pollina-       enters the ground, as many density              there are columns of undisturbed soil
tion,” Ferrie explains.                     changes created by horizontal tillage           between the shanks, you did not
   Although the benefits sound like         occur in the top 4" of soil. If the probe       achieve full shatter. Ideally, you want
a good fit, Ferrie reminds farmers that     suddenly becomes harder to push, you            full shatter 4" to 6" from the surface.”
adopting a vertical system is not a         have found a density shift. Compac-                Bauer reports that it’s important to
one-step process.                           tion layers must be fixed for a success-        get the primary tillage done right as
                                            ful transition to a vertical system.            well in sandy soils, where she’s done
  From the ground up. The first step is        “When farmers change tillage sys-            soil density studies.
to understand your soils and the cur-       tems, any compaction layer can come                “Sandier soils are not forgiving to
rent density profile. This means digging    back to haunt them,” Ferrie says.               mistakes made with primary tillage,”
in your fields once during the growing         Vertical tillage tools for primary           she says. “When the primary tillage is
season and again behind tillage tools.      tillage, which include in-line rippers,         done correctly, the effects of improper

  “The roots will tell the story on the     chisel plows, disk chisels and disk             spring leveling are less dramatic.”

26   I   FARMJOURNAL   I   NOVEMBER 2011                                                  Reprinted with permission Farm Journal Media

  Overall, in primary tillage farmers                        If the untilled columns extend to the
need to consider depth of topsoil, resi-                   surface, it can create an uneven seed-
due issues, crop rotation, timeliness                      bed. Horizontal secondary tillage tools,
and horsepower. The machine’s setting                      such as a field cultivator, can fix this
for uniform shatter might need to be                       problem because these tools level
checked and adjusted within each field.                    from the bottom, not from the top like
  “The end goal of primary tillage is to                   vertical tillage harrows.
leave the field as level as possible,”                       “Farmers are seeing that vertical till-
Ferrie says. “Staggered shanks, chisel                     age requires a combination of fall and
plows, disk chisels and disk rippers                       spring tools,” says Stan McFarlane of
leave a pattern of peaks and valleys of                    McFarlane Manufacturing. “Some of
untilled soil under the surface.”                          the mistakes made in the fall can’t just

     Water Infiltration Through the Soil Profile

                                Illinois Soil Density Study: Loamy Soils
                                                                   Plow + Soil Finisher
                      3.0                                          Disk + Soil Finisher
 Inches of Water

                      2.5                                          Disk Ripper + Vertical Harrow
                                                                   Chisel + Vertical Harrow

                                                                                                   SOURCE: CROP-TECH CONSULTING
                            0        2      3      1        0      9      :34      :19      :29
                                  0:1    0:4    1:1      2:1    2:5     15       20       22
                                                       Time Elapsed

                            Michigan Soil Density Study: Sandy Soils
                       7                                        Chisel + Vertical Harrow
                       6                                        Hybrid Chisel + Vertical Harrow
    Inches of Water


                                                                                                   SOURCE: B&M CROP CONSULTING




                            0 :05 :10 :15 :20 :25 :30 :35 :40 :45 :50 :55 :20 :45 :20 :35
                             0   0   0   0   0   0    0  0   0   0   0   1   1   2   2
                                                    Time Elapsed

     In midsummer, two experiments were done by fitting a barrel cut in half into
     the ground and then tracking how water was absorbed into the soil profile.

Reprinted with permission Farm Journal Media

     Residue Left at the Surface in the Spring in Corn-On-Corn Acres
     Horizontal Tillage Systems                                         Vertical Tillage Systems

                            Fall Disk        Fall Disk       Fall Chisel         Spring
          Fall Plow                           Ripper
                                +                                 +               Chisel
               +                                 +
                             Spring                            Spring               +                Strip-Till          No-Till
            Soil                              Spring
                              Soil           Vertical         Vertical           Vertical
                            Finisher          Harrow          Harrow             Harrow

                               Weight of Visible Surface Residue: Grams per Square Foot

                                                                                                                                           SOURCE: CROP-TECH CONSULTING
            4                 68              72                86                156                 338                358
                                    Percentage of Ground Cover Provided by Residue

          10%               17%              27%              27%                42%                 78%                91%
     In the spring, the visible surface residue was collected from 1 sq. ft. across these tillage passes. Vertical tillage only
     moves soil up and down and leaves more residue cover on top, but it sizes the residue for faster breakdown.

be fixed with a vertical tool in the          president of sales for Great Plains             the water straight down. If it’s a hori-
spring. I encourage farmers to make           Manufacturing. “Vertical tillage har-           zontal pass, the water will hesitate at
sure the field is left level in the fall.”    rows don’t mix and bury residue, and            the bottom of where the blades on the
                                              they are designed to size residue for it        horizontal tool ran.”
   From the top down. Vertical tillage        to break down faster and flow through             Another way to tell if a spring tool
harrows only level the surface from           the planter.”                                   will provide a vertical finish is to see
the top, and incorrect primary tillage           Primary vertical tillage tools, such as      how it makes contact with the surface.
causes problems for the planter as well       an in-line ripper, can be used to help            “You want the blades to be at the
as herbicide streaking.                       remove wheel track compaction and               smallest concave possible,” McFarlane
   “They don’t bury as much residue as        reset the soil profile.                         says. “It’s not just running straight or
horizontal tillage, so your primary till-        Another similarity between vertical          shallow blades but also the depth at
age needs to mix residue in the fall,”        tillage, no-till and strip-till is the way      which you run the tool. If it’s on an
Ferrie adds. “And you need to consider        water moves through the soil profile.           adjustable gang, evaluate how much of
running row cleaners on your planter.”        (See charts on previous page.)                  the ground is being worked. You’ll
(See table above.)                               “We have done studies comparing              need to watch how the tool runs in
   One way to distinguish between             tillage systems and the amount of time          different residue environments.”
spring tillage tools and know if they fit     it takes for water to move down the               When a vertical tillage system is
a vertical system is to look at how           profile,” Ferrie says. “Without a hori-         executed correctly, the planter pass is
much residue is left on the surface.          zontal layer, a vertical system has the         smooth-running.
   “We typically say that 75% residue is      advantage of getting rid of water                 “Setting down pressure, achieving
left on top of the ground after running       quickly, but it also helps water move           proper depth and getting even emer-
a vertical tillage harrow one time,” says     back up the profile later in the season.”       gence are all easier with a well-done
Jim Danielsen, national sales manager            Watching how your fields take on             vertical system,” Ferrie says.
for Salford Farm Machinery.                   water is one way to test your vertical            Not only will your planter help test
   Many no-till and strip-till farmers        system. From the surface, though, a             your performance, but you can let your
are exercising the vertical system, as        vertical finishing pass can look the            soils do the talking as you evaluate
they are already managing the soil            same as a horizontal finishing pass.            your vertical tillage system. FJ
profile for uniformity.                          “If you dig, you’ll see the differ-
   “We’ve sold machines to no-tillers         ence,” Evans says. “If that field gets a            You can e-mail Margy Fischer at
who want to leave all residue on top          heavy rain, the vertical finish will filter   
of the ground,” says Tom Evans, vice
                                                     Watch videos of Ken Ferrie and Missy Bauer defining vertical tillage at
                                                                                            Reprinted with permission Farm Journal Media
                                                   TURB                                   -MAX

              TO THE MAX                                                                           “Harvest starts here.”

With an overall blade spacing of just 3 3/4” and a                               0 Degree Gang Angle
hydraulically adjustable gang angle from 0° to 6° Turbo-Max
takes vertical tillage to the max by giving you options on how
much tillage you can do on the fly. In the fall you can run the
machine at an angle to bury more residue, which aids in the
decay process and helps keep the residue from blowing away
in high winds. In the spring you can run it straight to create
an excellent vertically tilled seedbed that is perfect to plant
into or do any combination you want to prepare the ultimate
seedbeds.                                                                        6 Degree Gang Angle

       See the Turbo-Max in action or to locate your
                 Great Plains dealer visit
                        or call

   Yield-Pro® Planters   Vertical Tillage    Fertilizer Placement       Drills            Conventional Tillage    Sprayers
                          Great Plains Mfg., Inc. • PO Box 5060 • 1525 E North St • Salina, KS 67402

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