Fall Tillage After Challenging Conditions

For most of the Corn Belt, 2019 has been a roller-coaster ride, and as harvest progresses, the next question is now what? The spring was challenging, but for many the issue began last fall when wetter than normal conditions were combined with a late harvest. Many growers were faced with harvesting in wet fields, which created a perfect situation for soil compaction and limited the ability to do any fall tillage. Fast forward to the spring of 2019 and again growers were faced with unusually wet conditions. This forced growers to push the limits again to get a crop planted. The question now becomes what can we do this fall to deal with the short comings of last fall and this spring’s issues? 

The answer to this question is most likely going to be some sort of tillage pass this fall.  For most, the main objective this fall will be breaking up compaction zones and leveling out equipment ruts and tracks from previous field activities. Each individual needs to evaluate what they are trying to accomplish with a fall tillage pass. A few things to think about when making the decision to perform a fall tillage pass include:

  • What is the level of compaction? 
  • How much crop residue is there and what how much residue is desired to be left after a tillage pass?
  • How many acres need to be covered?
  • Will a single-pass piece of equipment work or will multiple pieces of equipment be needed?
  • Will fertilizer or manure be incorporated in the same pass? 
  • What are the current ground conditions?

Once a grower has decided what they want to accomplish, there are numerous types of equipment available. Some of the more common fall tillage equipment and practices available include: 

  • Chisel Plow – Can be used for several different purposes. It allows a grower to break up shallow compaction, incorporate residue and fill in tracks left from previous field activity. 
  • Disk Ripper – A disk ripper is like a chisel as it also can be used to incorporate residue and fill in tracks, but instead of breaking up shallow compaction, it is designed to break up deep compaction. It uses a set of shanks with aggressive points to penetrate deep (greater than 8 inches) into the soil profile to break up the compaction layers. The disk ripper is most effective when conditions are dry. This allows the shanks and points to shatter the soil, breaking up the compaction. If soil conditions are too wet, it can lead to deep compaction where the points smear the soil instead of breaking it up.
  • Inline Ripper - The inline ripper is another tool that uses large shanks to penetrate deep into the soil profile. Unlike the disk ripper and chisel plow, it is only used for compaction. It disturbs very little of the surface and is a great choice for growers using minimum tillage or conservation tillage practices. Inline rippers are best used in the fall in dry conditions like the disk ripper. 
  • Disk - A disk uses a series of coned blades to incorporate residue or fertilizer but does not help any in breaking up compaction zones. It also is a good choice for repairing tracks and ruts from the spring. Often, a disk is used prior to a chisel plow to size up heavy residue. Under wet conditions it can cause compaction on the surface, so using when soil is dry is highly recommended.
  • Vertical Tillage – Vertical tillage has become very popular, especially for growers using conservation tillage. It allows them to cover a large area fast and sizes up residue for spring planting. However, they have limited ability to break up any compaction and when used too late, it can cause surface compaction like a disk.

Fall tillage passes may be beneficial for most growers in 2019. Careful thought of what is desired coupled with the right piece of equipment can help lead the way for a successful 2020 season. 

Jeff Lakin

Agronomist

Sources:

Fall tillage best practices. 2013. Ag Professional. Farm Journal’s AGPRO. https://www.agprofessional.com

Al-Kaisi, M. 2001. Fall tillage and tillage equipment. ICM News. Integrated Crop Management. Iowa State University. https://crops.extension.iastate.edu.

Web sites verified 8/21/19

 

 

Performance may vary, from location to location and from year to year, as local growing, soil and weather conditions may vary. Growers should evaluate data from multiple locations and years whenever possible and should consider the impacts of these conditions on the grower’s fields. 

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