Firsthand look at vertical tillage
The hot term in tillage is vertical tillage. Ironically, those who buy vertical tillage tools are generally practicing no-till or reduced tillage.
A vertical tillage tool typically has relatively straight blades designed to cut residue at up to 9 mph. Most machinery gurus recommend running 1 to 2 inches deep. The idea is to do just enough chopping and movement of residue to begin breakdown in the fall, or help soils dry out in the spring.
Tony Vyn has experimented with vertical tillage. So far, the best application the Purdue University tillage specialist has found is running it in the spring.
• Vertical tillage tools are designed to run fast and shallow.
• The goal is to cut residue and begin the breakdown process.
• Farmers have their own preferences for machines.
Most tools on the market feature a leveling device. John Kretzmeier, Fowler, says that if the field isn’t level after running the machine, it likely wasn’t set up properly. He runs a Case vertical tillage tool, featuring relatively aggressive blades. He farms heavy soils.
Nearly everyone has their favorite brand. Most also have ones they don’t like. And it may be the one you like best! Soil differences and variations in goals contribute to mixed opinions.
Here’s what I found planting after vertical tillage. I planted soybeans with a Kinze split-row planter. Many fields were no-tilled directly into cornstalks.
First, I planted into a stale seedbed where Kevin Thompson, Morgantown, tried a vertical tillage tool on stalks last fall. He ran it according to recommendations. By spring it didn’t look level. It was rougher than no-tilling into stalks. The field looked as if it was fall-disked.
Still, I didn’t have to adjust planting depth, and emergence was comparable to
This spring Thompson rented a Landoll vertical tillage tool, hoping to smooth up the seedbed after a wet harvest. He also ran it on slow-drying fields.
I no-tilled into cornstalks one evening, then later ran where Thompson operated the 23-foot Landoll at 9 mph. He started out at least 2 inches deep, then shallowed it up. He pulled up less moist dirt where he ran it shallow. The tool did a great job of leveling in one pass, even though fields were covered with winter annuals.
My biggest problem was finding my mark after dark. I no longer had stalks to guide me and the field was smooth. Better eyesight or a GPS with mapping capability would fix that problem.
Fast and light: Kevin Thompson puts the Landoll vertical tillage tool to the test in stalks this spring.
Ran too deep? Note the seedbed on the left hit with a vertical tillage tool last fall. It looks more like disked ground — apparently the vertical tillage tool was set deeper than necessary.
Equal emergence: Stand counts roughly two weeks after planting came out identical in both no-till (top) and vertical-tilled fields (bottom).
Good cover: Residue cover in the no-till field after planting (bottom) was only 12% greater than after vertical tillage.
This article published in the August, 2010 edition of INDIANA PRAIRIE FARMER.
All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.