When No-Till Fields Need Fixing


As the combines roll across fields, it’s not hard to spot the wheel tracks, ruts and pinch rows. At planting and sidedressing, it came to the point that causing field damage was better than having little to no crop at all. Now it’s time to reckon with the damage. Take advantage of a dry harvest to fix the issues stemming from excessive rainfall this past spring and summer.

“Breaking up compaction in wheel tracks this fall will gain more benefit from the freezing and thawing cycle,” says Farm Journal Field Agronomist Ken Ferrie. “The best option is to follow the combine as close as possible with your tillage regimen to ensure you’re working in drier soil and have time on your side.”

Ruts usually aren’t too big of an issue in no-till fields because the soil is firm. However, don’t let a 4" rut or pinch rows fool you. Both can be hard on ear counts the following year. 

If you’re dealing with wheel tracks in a no-till soybean scenario, there’s a good chance freezing and thawing paired with a vertical-harrow tool will do the trick. If fixed, you can return to no-till the following year. 

With 4" to 6" ruts in cornstalks followed by soybeans, plan to shallow chisel the field to achieve full width shatter and then level with a vertical harrow. Once fixed, the field can return to no-till the following year. 

“This year, we saw significant pinch rows and ruts from the planter but also from the sidedress applicators and herbicide applications,” Ferrie says. “Planting no-till corn into the previous year’s pinch rows or ruts will lead to uneven emergence and growth.” 

In soybean stubble with ruts in small portions of the field, patch it with tillage and continue to no-till the rest of the field. If pinch rows or ruts are present across the entire field, use vertical tillage to address the problem and then return to no-till in future years.  

“Ultimately, in order to avoid long-term yield effects, fields might have to come out of no-till or strip-till to fix ruts and compaction issues,” Ferrie says. “Ruts often show up in aerial imagery for two to three years. As soon as the problems are fixed, the field can return to no-till or strip-till.”

If next spring is your only option to tackle the previous year’s ruts, your main goal should be to prepare an adequate seedbed. Use a chisel to manage ruts, then follow within hours with a leveling pass. Level soil maintains a homogeneous water front that keeps the soil from drying out. Creating a cloddy mess to plant into isn’t a good idea, especially for corn. In soybeans, disk in ruts and then come back next fall to manage compaction. 

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