Effective tillage breaks up hardpans, or horizontal layers, that are present in the field and helps reset the soil profile.
Field compaction can cut corn yields by up to 20%
Six-foot-tall corn with stunted ears was a common sight in Luke Huysman’s fields this past season due to extreme drought conditions. In the years prior, Huysman saw the same short corn but for a different reason. The contributing problem then was compaction. Plaguing 600 to 700 corn acres, compaction was evident wherever trucks, heavily laden with manure, had traveled over the gently rolling fields.
Today, the problem is basically nonexistent on his Fabius, N.Y., farm, which includes 4,400 acres of corn and alfalfa-grass hay and a 1,400-head dairy cow operation. Huysman owns the farm with two partners.
The solution to Huysman’s compaction issues was vertical tillage. The practice involves tillage that’s deep enough to break up hardpans and horizontal layers.
Complete, full-bore shatter between the tillage tool shanks and also between passes is needed to make vertical tillage effective.
"The ground upheaval resets the soil profile," explains Frank Mutz, Empire Tractor territory manager based in Cazenovia, N.Y.
Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie adds that vertical tillage done in the fall needs to be followed with a vertical tillage leveling pass the next spring before planting in order for the practice to be effective.
Seeing is believing. To show farmers that compaction is present in their fields, Mutz likes to use a soil probe.
"A lot of farmers are in denial and tell me they don’t have compaction. I tell them they’re full of crap," Mutz says, with a good-natured chuckle.
The soil probe quickly determines who’s right. If a horizontal layer is present, Mutz usually finds it at roughly 8" deep. He often likes to hand off the soil probe to farmers to find and feel the hardpan for themselves.
"Few corn roots are going to penetrate a hardpan," Mutz contends.
Most of his customers agree, once they see compaction for themselves. Some don’t, he acknowledges, noting: "There are guys out there who won’t believe it exists no matter what."
- November 2012