Field Questions

March 22, 2013 09:24 PM

Farm Journal experts are ready with solutions


Find answers to your crop production questions on Farm Journal’s "Ask an Agronomist" blog. A team of Farm Journal agronomists and experts responds to questions sent to based on their independent experience and in-the-field insight. Past questions and answers can be found at Here are two recent questions and answers from the blog:

Q I’m thinking about going to vertical tillage this spring; is there anything I need to be thinking about before I do that?

A Before you take that step, I’d encourage you and other farmers to evaluate any tillage you might have done this past fall. Because it was really dry, guys got into their fields with chisel plows and inline rippers and got a lot of tillage work done.

Now, everyone is thinking about leveling up things this spring when they can get back into the field. Before field work can be done, though, it’s important to determine if fall tillage was effective. A lot of interest and attention have been drawn to vertical tillage, and a lot of new tools are being sold to level up fields. But you need to know that if you didn’t do your primary tillage properly this past fall, you’re probably not going to get the results you want with vertical tillage this spring.

As soon as you can get into your fields, dig where you ran your chisel plow or inline ripper to see whether you achieved good shatter from shank to shank.  If you didn’t get good shatter in between those shanks and you have some firm columns, a vertical tillage leveling tool might not be your best answer.

Running a vertical tillage tool where you don’t have good shatter will not create a good seedbed or uniform root growth, and you might have problems with the planter bouncing across the field as well. Instead, maybe you need to use a field cultivator or a disk to level the ground. 

If you find that you did accomplish good shatter from shank to shank, then running one of the new vertical tillage tools this spring is fine.

Q Is there anything you’d advise me to consider for planting soybeans after the drought this past year?

A Extreme hot, dry conditions like this past year can lead to reductions of bradyrhizobium populations in the soil. This microorganism is essential for nitrogen fixation in soybeans. I doubt this will be an issue in most fields that have had soybeans for many years. However, it might be an issue on fields that have had only one or two years of soybeans or have other issues, such as low pH.

That said, if you’re planting soybeans after failed corn, there might be quite a bit of residual nitrogen still in the soil profile. That is not a problem; the soybeans will use it. However, excess
nitrogen might inhibit nodulation early in the season, potentially reducing soybean production later in the season. If you think that is the case in your fields, non-legumes might be a more efficient option for you.

Another issue some farmers saw in 2012 was increased soybean shatter due to the drought and quick drydown.  If the drought persists, planting a bit later can help mitigate shattering, all other things being equal. Soybeans should be able to mature a bit later in the fall and face conditions that are less likely to lead to shattering.

For more crop production questions and answers, go to

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