Play the Tillage Hand You're Dealt

September 26, 2015 02:03 AM

Look at how weather, crops and more affect your soil

To develop a smart tillage plan, start by thinking about a 5-gal. bucket, says Chris Lursen, tillage marketing manager with Case IH.

That’s roughly the width and depth farmers should dig to analyze potential compaction layers, he says, adding his family does this each fall on their farm in central Iowa. Once the hole is dug, run a pocketknife up through the soil, noting if it snags a compaction layer. Then run the pocketknife down from the top to catch the top of the compaction layer.

After that, it’s decision time, Lursen says.

“How thick is that compaction layer?” he asks. “If it’s only around an inch, you can probably defer tillage. But if it’s any thicker than that, you might want to do something about it.”

This year, Mother Nature might have thrown an extra wildcard at farmers who experienced heavy rains or flooding. Excessive rains can reduce pore space in the soil, shrinking it when it dries out—a cycle that can create ponding and compaction issues.

Properly sizing crop residue is another key consideration, adds Nathan Weinkauf, Case IH combine cash crop marketing manager. 

For tough Bt corn crops, processing above-ground plant residue will speed up the decomposition process. For soybeans, consider protecting the soil with a cover crop because soybean residue decomposes more quickly and is more easily lost. For wheat, uneven distribution of residue can affect future seeding and stand performance, he notes.

Bigger yields pile on more residue. Properly adjusted combine settings become a critical first step in residue management in this case, Lursen notes.

“If you’re not doing your homework with the combine, tillage can’t totally solve uneven residue,” he says.

There are a variety of tillage equipment solutions on the market. Knowing what will work best, though, comes back to making the bucket-sized hole to check for compaction, Lursen adds. 

Tips to Optimize Tillage Tool Performance

Properly adjusted and operated tillage equipment will address the issues at hand and lead to fewer trips across the field. AGCO Corporation experts share these tips regardless of disk harrow brand:                            

  • Right-size your equipment. Size matters—don’t overpower the tool. Consider using 8 hp to 10 hp per foot when pulling a tandem disk harrow 5 mph to 6 mph. At higher speeds, tillage tools can bounce and create inconsistent depth.
  • Match the tongue with the drawbar height. Aim for a straight line of draft to the tool to minimize wear and create unneeded down pressure.
  • Purge air from hydraulic lines. This ensures the wings stay level with the center section. Air compresses more easily than oil, so hydraulic lines could create sag in the wings.
  • Keep the tool level. This reduces wear and tear and optimizes fuel efficiency. 
  • The tillage depth should match your field conditions. Use the general rule of thumb of 25% of the blade’s diameter. For example, set 24" blades no more than 6" deep.
  • On flexible tillage tools, gauge wheels can prevent front-wing corners from gouging. Use a tape measure to find out if both wheels are consistent. Wheels will move slightly when kicked.
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  Should plan to let cover crops do tillage


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