Tillage Tool Analysis Makes Interesting Discussion

What do you want a tool to do?

Published on: Dec 23, 2009
Based on discussion amongst farmers recently, how to make tillage more efficient, not tilling when you don't need to but still getting a good seedbed, is still a hot topic. Tools turning heads at shows from the Decatur 2009 Farm Progress Show to the Indy Farm show last week are models that look like disks, but which have curved blades. They're part of the new craze tool makers are calling vertical tillage.

Farmers who have run them say that if you run one to two inches deep at a good clip, say seven miles per hour or faster, you can leaves a good amount of residue cover, yet start breakdown of residue. Those who no-till soybeans into corn stalks in the fall, worried if stronger stalks and hi-tech corn stalks are slower to break down, think these tools, if run in the fall, might result in enough breakdown and just enough less cover to let soils warm up and not be as wet when it's time to plant in the spring.

On the other hand, farmers who still prefer a somewhat more conventional approach, say fall chiseling and/or a field cultivator pass in the spring, wonder that if you run a tool over a field, is it still no-till anyway? If you're going to till, why not go all the way and do real tillage?

It's a fair question. So is this one. Another use for these tools is supposedly to run them just before it's time to plant in the spring to expose a little more soil and speed up drying so the 'no-till' planter can do its job. But if it's too wet to be out there to plant, aren't you still creating soil compaction by running this tool?

It's a good argument for another day. Factors are likely operating depth, which is shallow for this tool, weight of this tool vs. running a planter across the soil, although most of these tools aren't light by any means, and type of soil you're running on.

Anyone who looks at these tools usually winds up wondering what's best to have mounted on them at the rear of the machine. Several companies use rolling baskets. Some have slats on a reel, others have just rods attached to a rolling spindle.

Farmers who have used them say there's a difference in how various baskets handle rocks- some let them pass through, while others might clog up, stopping the basket from rotating, turning it into a trencher.

There are no easy answers here, partly because everyone's soil is different, every season is different, and preferences in how much soil should be covered vary. Asking others who have tried them, asking about distance to parts and service, and comparing each one seem to be keys to getting a tool that works for you.