New deep tillage methods on clay soils deserve a look

A couple new tillage ideas with potential for improving drainage and plant rooting on clay soils are building interest in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Michigan State University Extension personnel attended and presented at the February 2016 Agriculture and Food Symposium in Algoma, Canada, organized by the Rural Agri-Innovation Network. At this program, information was shared on a “keyline subsoiling” project. This subsoil tilling process was developed for arid pasture and farm soils in Australia. It consists of a specific pattern of topographical subsoiling used to better equalize plant-available water held in soil across the landscape. The most important components in the process are the special subsoil plow and the well-designed plowing pattern, based on topography of the land to be treated. This process results in minimal surface disturbance and creates deep parallel slits in the ground, loosening soil and providing for improved water retention and distribution.

In Australia, the idea is to improve water holding and availability in very dry environments. In Michigan’s eastern Upper Peninsula, this process just might allow for the opposite: improved drainage of excessive surface water deeper into the soil profile earlier in spring, with reduced soil saturation near the surface. Also, root penetration by perennial forage crops could be improved.

Some eastern Upper Peninsula farmers have been practicing deep, subsoil tillage for years with reports of positive results. Preliminary planning is underway to organize an on-farm demonstration project and field day for local farmers in the eastern Upper Peninsula to explore this technique for improving crop performance and access to fields during the wet spring season.

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