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Tilling the soil? Vertical tillage offers the most benefits


August 24. 2013 12:11PM
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Farmers may practice tillage to break up compacted soil, aid in seedgermination and control weeds, but how the soil is tilled has the mostimpact on crop productivity.Although agronomists encourage the use of no-till for the agriculturaland environmental benefits it affords, there are some instances wherefarmers may want to use tillage. In those cases, vertical tillage is usuallymore beneficial than horizontal tillage, said Randall Reeder, an Ohio StateUniversity Extension agricultural engineer.³Helping farmers understand that there are differences between tillagepractices helps them choose the proper tools to get the most out of cropproductivity, maximizing yields as well as their profits,² Reeder said.With horizontal tillage, usually about 4 to 8 inches of topsoil issheared off, broken up and laid over a previously cut surface. If the soilis moist, the process smears the soil between the tilled and the untilledlayers.³If you scraped away the tilled layer of soil what you would see is asmeared soil surface, like if you had smoothed out the soil with a butterknife,² Reeder said. ³That smeared surface often creates a physical barrierthat impairs root growth, water and air movement, and has a major impact onsoil and crop performance.²Moldboard plows and field cultivators are examples of horizontal tillagetools. Reeder said that the long-term result of using a moldboard plow isthe development of a plow pan, a compacted layer of soil that is generallytoo hard for roots to penetrate.Vertical tillage includes a wide range of equipment, he said.Subsoilers and chisel plows, for example, are designed to createvertical zones by cutting slots about 6 to 16 inches deep, shattering thesoil between the tillage shanks at natural break points and lifting the soilto loosen it. Strip-till units create narrow tilled strips 30 inches apart,where the next corn crop will be planted, and do not disturb the soil inbetween.Other vertical tillage tools, such as straight or slightly angledcoulters, penetrate only an inch or two, mainly mixing a little soil withthe crop residue. Tools with ³rolling spikes² can punch holes 2 to 8 inchesdeep, improving water infiltration and soil aeration.Reeder said that vertical tillage is a much more attractive option thanhorizontal tillage due to a number of benefits, including improved rootgrowth, reduced soil erosion by leaving more crop residue on the soilsurface, and energy savings.³I prefer continuous no-till. But if a grower wants to till, verticaltillage is the next best choice,² Reeder said. ³Vertical tillage tools thatleave most of the crop residue on the surface can maintain or increaseyields while at the same time providing environmental benefits and reducingcosts.²  





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