Vertical Tillage: Another Tool for Your Tillage Toolbox

April 21, 2010 07:00 PM

Rhonda Brooks
, Farm Journal Technology & Special Projects Editor

The least amount of tillage that gets the job done is the best amount of tillage, according to Randall Reeder, Ohio State University Extension agricultural engineer.

While Reeder says he prefers to see farmers implement no tillage and minimum tillage in Ohio, he says vertical tillage is still a good option because it leaves most of the crop residue on the surface, which can help farmers maintain or increase yields while, at the same time, save soil moisture and reduce the opportunity for soil erosion. 
Plus, unlike horizontal tillage practices, vertical tillage doesn't create any soil density layer, which can restrict root growth.
"Root growth is what you're after,” Reeder says. "You don't want the root to run into anything that slows down growth, because that could have a negative impact on yield.”
For example, if a corn crop germinates and the roots get a strong start and are able to reach good soil moisture, then a dry spell may not impact that corn crop as significantly as it would have had the root growth started more slowly.
But vertical tillage isn't a one-size-fits-all-solution for every part of the Midwest, according to Mark Hanna, Iowa State University Extension agricultural engineer.
Hanna says vertical tillage fits best in areas of Iowa where farmers have a compacted layer that has been documented and soil that is dry enough at the time of tillage to shatter well between tillage tines.
"In those situations, it may be helpful,” he says.
Hanna says "may be helpful,” because across the state of Iowa  farmers tend to have what he describes as soil that is reasonably well-drained or areas with poorly drained soil, natural freeze/thaw or wet/dry processes that make the soil more forgiving.
In Michigan, the proverbial jury is undecided about the value of vertical tillage, according to Farm Journal Associate Field Agronomist Missy Bauer.

This season, Bauer is assessing the agronomic and economic benefits associated with using vertical tillage to level fields and prepare the seedbed for corn planting.  The Great Plains Turbo-Till Series ll 1800 and the Salford RTS are featured equipment used in the 75-acre plot. Take a minute to hear Bauer explain her goals for the research and the types of assessments she will report on throughout the growing season and harvest for farmers' personal evaluation and use.

You can e-mail Rhonda Brooks at

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