Title : Why Your Tillage System is Important
Visit Count : 2807 Time(s)
Upload Date : 8/14/2016 - 4 Year(s) ago
Category : agricultural technical notes
Sunday, August 14, 2016
Visit Count : 2807 Time(s)
Upload Date : 8/14/2016 - 4 Year(s) ago
Category : agricultural technical notes
Key Points
• Selecting the proper tillage system may reduce production costs while providing benefits.
• Each tillage system offers advantages and disadvantages that should be considered for each field.
• A long-term, nationwide study found that the yield benefits of no-till corn and soybean were relatively small overall and varied by geography.
Why Do You Till?
Whether you use a bottom plow, disk, chisel, subsoiler, or a no-till coulter, your tillage system should provide a proper environment for seeds to germinate and roots to grow. Additional tillage can further prepare a seedbed, kill weeds and disrupt pest lifecycles, incorporate nutrients, and manage crop residues. While tillage can provide benefits, reducing the number of tillage operations can offer economic benefits including 1) lower fuel costs, 2) reduced amount of tillage equipment needed, 3) lower labor requirements, 4) reduced soil loss from water and wind erosion, and 5) conservation of soil moisture.You have probably wondered about the pros and cons of no-till compared to other tillage systems. A review of research comparing the yields of corn and soybean planted after no-till or other tillage systems found that the average difference in yields between no-till and other tillage systems was small, especially in the central states.1 No-till corn performed 12% better and no-till soybeans performed 5% better in southern and western regions. In the north-central states, there was a yield disadvantage of 5.5% for no-till corn and about a 4% yield disadvantage for no-till soybeans. No-till had a negative effect on yields in fields with poor soil drainage. The study authors pointed out that many of the tillage studies included fields that did not have a stable, long-term no-till system in place prior to the study. Farmers and academics have learned that it may take several years to realize the full benefits of a no-till system.
Tillage Options
Primary, deep tillage loosens and fractures the soil more than six inches deep to control weeds and incorporate residue, fertilizer, lime, and manure. Shallow tillage (less than six inches deep) kills weeds, cuts and covers crop residue, incorporates herbicides, aerates the soil, improves drainage, and prepares a seedbed. You may consider tertiary tillage while crops are growing to control weeds or incorporate fertilizer or manure.
Conventional tillage. A multiple tillage pass system that disturbs 100% of the soil surface (full width), including moldboard plowing, that leaves less than 15% residue on the soil surface after planting.
• Reduced tillage. A full-width tillage system that leaves 15 to 30% residue cover after one to three tillage passes.
• Mulch tillage. A one to three pass full-width tillage system using a chisel, disk, field cultivator, or a combination of tillage tools that leave more than 30% residue cover after planting.
• Ridge tillage. A tillage system where the soil is left undisturbed from harvest to planting except for 4- to 6-inch high ridges built during row cultivation. One to two inches of the ridges are scraped off during planting.
• Strip tillage. The soil is left undisturbed except for strips where the soil is tilled and residue removed to facilitate planting. Typically a mole knife is used to till a zone about 10 inches wide and 4 to 5 inches high and fertilizer is applied in the zone.
• Vertical tillage. Full width, shallow tillage (2-3 inches) leaving 30% or more surface residue; used to cut, mix, and anchor residue in the upper few inches of soil and break up surface compaction and crusting.
• No-till. A system with minimal soil disturbance (greater than 70% residue cover) which uses a row cleaner, coulter, seed opener, or other planter attachment to aid in planting.
Deciding on a Tillage System
Each tillage system has advantages and disadvantages that you should consider based on each individual field and production practices.
• Crop rotation. The amount and durability of residue is crop specific. Corn generates more residue that degrades slower than soybean residue. It may be difficult to maintain adequate residue cover in crops following soybean.
• Erosion potential. The length and steepness of the slope, topsoil depth, and soil texture determine erosion potential. Highly erodible soils may require a large reduction in tillage operations to maintain residue and crop productivity. Tillage intensity and residue cover can help manage sediment loss on flat soils.
• Internal drainage. Poorly drained soils usually require more tillage to help soils warm up and dry. High levels of residue may keep soils cool and wet too long for sensitive crops.
• Surface compaction. Primary tillage may be needed to alleviate compaction caused by field activities on wet soils.
• Nutrient management. Tillage may be needed to incorporate fertilizers. Surface applied nitrogen needs incorporation to minimize volatilization and runoff losses. Tillage should be used to incorporate broadcast applications of phosphorus and potassium. Moderate to low fertility fields should be fertilized to higher levels before conservation tillage is initiated.
• Pest management. Reduced tillage systems may have more weed, insect, and disease problems than conventional systems. More residue cover can increase overwintering survival of some insects and diseases and delay crop development due to cool, wet soils, increasing the risk of infestation. Tillage can bury weed seed, disrupt weed, disease, and insect lifecycles, and bury residue that harbors pests.
• Planting equipment. Planter modifications (coulters, row cleaners, starter fertilizer attachments) may be required to handle higher crop residue levels. Planting equipment specific to a strip-till, ridge-till, or no-till system may be required to match tillage and planting operations in each system.

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