Tillage: "Play the Hand You're Dealt"


Want to develop a smart tillage plan? Start by thinking about a five-gallon bucket, suggests 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 that his family does this each fall on their farm in central Iowa. Once the hole is dug, run a pocketknife upward through the soil, noting if it catches on 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 says. “If it’s only around an inch, you can probably defer tillage. But any thicker than that, and you may want to do something about it.”

This year, Mother Nature may have thrown an extra wildcard at farmers who experienced heavy rains or flooding this season, Lursen says. 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, says Nathan Weinkauf, Case IH combine Cash Crop marketing manager.

“Consider combines with a range of residue management options to match each field’s needs, and headers that allow uniform feeding and residue distribution out the back.”

For tough Bt corn crops, Weinkauf says processing above-ground plant residue will speed up the decomposition process. For soybeans, consider protecting the soil with some cover because soybean residues decompose more quickly and are more easily lost. For wheat, uneven distribution of residue can affect future seeding and stand performance, he says.

Lursen notes that bigger yields some farmers saw this year tend to pile on more residue. Properly adjusted combine settings become a critical first step in residue management, therefore.

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

Lursen says a variety of tillage equipment solutions are on the market, but knowing what will work best comes back to making that bucket-sized hole, he says.

“It’s critical to continue to scout your fields,” he says. “It doesn’t end when the crop is mature. The minute after we harvest, the next season has already started.”

More fall tillage tips

Experts at AGCO Corporation say tillage equipment that is properly adjusted – and properly used – will lead to fewer trips to the field, not to mention a job well-done. Here are “brand agnostic” tips that will work no matter what particular disc harrow you’re using.

  • Right-size your equipment. Size matters – don’t overpower the tool. Consider using 8 to 10 horsepower per foot when pulling a tandem disc harrow 5 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.

Find more information at http://blog.agcocorp.com/tag/tillage-tips/.  

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