Before you take the plunge and adopt a vertical tillage system, review the following six recommendations from Farm Journal Associate Field Agronomist Missy Bauer:
1. Know what you’re trying to gain with the system. One of the best goals you can set is trying to achieve uniform soil density. That uniformity can help you develop a good-quality seedbed, which is crucial for uniform corn emergence and high ear counts.
2. Evaluate whether you have density layers or compaction problems in your soils. If so, at what depth? At 4" deep, you can go in with a variety of tools to remove a density layer. If it’s at 12" deep, though, you will need a more specific tool to accomplish that.
3. Consider your residue needs before purchasing vertical tillage equipment. For instance, in continuous corn, you need to select a tool to get rid of root balls and incorporate residue. If you have deep density layers but don’t need the residue, you can use something such as a disk ripper, which is designed to go deeper than a chisel plow. If you have shallow layers and don’t need much residue, then you can run a chisel plow. If you have deep density layers but need a lot of residue, you can run an inline ripper type of tool. On highly erodible soils, use a less aggressive tool.
4. Make sure you run the vertical tillage tool level from front to back. An easy way to determine whether you are is to have someone walk beside you and watch the tool as you move through the field. Make adjustments until the tool is level.
5. During primary tillage, make sure you get shatter from shank-to-shank. Factors contributing to this include your tool’s design, shank spacing, point type and tillage depth. Dig behind the tool to see if you have uniform fracture of the soil in-between the shanks with no columns. Check for proper shatter every time you change fields. Be sure the surface of your field is relatively level after primary tillage with small peaks and valleys.
6. Use a vertical tillage leveling tool to prepare the seedbed ahead of planting. This tool should not move soil sideways, and it should run no more than 3" deep. As a result, you will not incorporate as much residue as you would with a horizontal tool. You also need to use row cleaners on the planter. Instead of a fixed-position row cleaner, Bauer recommends floating row cleaners to achieve a more uniform, clean surface. At this point, you should see that the seedbed is in good shape and ready for planting.