Ask an Agronomist
Do you recommend inline ripping in the spring?
Mar 12, 2014
Question: I have been an agronomist in central Iowa for 20 years and have been in the mind set of heavy tillage to manage compaction and residue and turn the soils black for spring. I still have to manage residue and compaction but I want to switch to a vertical tillage system to increase soil health. I will be practicing what I preach for the first time as I enter into my own farming operation. I was not able to get in to the farm early enough in the season before the ground froze, to inline rip the bean stubble. What has your experience been with a spring ripping with an inline? Thanks for your comments!
Answer: When we’re talking about inline ripping we’re talking about going between 12" and 14" deep to get full width shatter for vertical tillage. Typically, that is half the distance of your spacing. So, if the spacing on your shanks is 30" apart, then you need to go 15" to get full width shatter so your vertical tillage program will work. I would not recommend 15" ripping in any spring, because you need freezing and thawing in multiple cycles to get the soil to settle after you rip it 15" deep. If you rip it in early early spring, after that window of opportunity, you never know how much freezing and thawing of the soil you’re going to get and it won’t settle. That can leave you at a high risk of the soil drying out. The soil can dry out very rapidly, so you get the crop caught in a drought situation early. Or, the other thing that happens is you don’t get freezing and thawing but you get heavy spring rains. Because you fractured those soils your water infiltration rate is probably going to be 3x or 4x. If you fill the soil with large amounts of water, you may not be able to get fields planted in time. The risk of drying out or too much water is too high a risk. If I’m determined to do spring tillage, I might switch to a chisel plow and chisel the field 7" deep on 14-inch centers. I would chisel plow in the spring then level that field with my vertical tillage harrow in a matter of hours. As we do tillage in the spring, we kick out clods, what I call watermelon rinds, and when they blow apart you need to be there. You have to do very timely vertical tillage. Some guys will chisel all night long and then go back and level fields that morning. In the day, I may only be able to chisel a couple of hours before I need to go back and level up the soil. The reason is if those clods of dirt dry out, you’re not going to be able to break them apart. A good practice for a check on this would be to hold a clod of dirt shoulder high drop it to see if it blows apart. While it sill breaks up is when you want to get in there and level up the field. Do not chisel all your ground and then come back in two weeks and try to level up that field, because you’re not going to get rid of the clods. Or, you’re going to have clods you can’t get rid of because there’s no more freezing and thawing. The ideal time to do your primary vertical tillage pass would have been shortly after harvest.