Vertical tillage can be part of a cropping system

Build a cropping system to address corn residue and soybean stands while protecting the soil. October 4 field day in St. Johns, Mich., will demonstrate several vertical tillage tools.

There are as many cropping systems as there are farmers, and each year an individual farm’s system may change. Systems are built by trial and error – new ideas, new equipment and new challenges lead to new ways of getting the crop in the ground or, more importantly, “out of the ground.” Every spring we talk about planting the crop when the conditions are just right – not too wet and not too dry. Every year we have a little different situation.

No-till soybeans after corn has been a practice many farmers embraced. However, in the last several years, heavy corn residue has led to cooler and wetter soils and variable spring weather has shortened the planting window. This has led to concerns about soybean stands. As a result, a lot of “experimentation” has occurred on farms. One common practice has been the use of vertical tillage equipment to manage corn residue prior to planting soybeans.

Vertical tillage tools fracture and loosen the top 2 to 3 inches of soil, and size corn stalk residue. While many tools are on the market that fit this description, each one covers the field with a little different configuration of blades, coulters and baskets. Care must be taken to select the vertical tillage tool that best fits an individual farm’s cropping system.

In the fall, a single pass with the vertical tillage tool will size corn stalks and increase soil contact with the stalk, encouraging stalk breakdown over the winter. (View a vertical tillage tools in action demonstration on YouTube.) Partnering this operation with the incorporation of manure or the establishment of a fall cover crop may optimize the tillage pass, reduce soil loss and trap nutrients for the next crop. Research at Michigan State University, conducted by the Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering’s Tim Harrigan, is evaluating vertical tillage tools as high capacity tools for seeding cover crops and as manure incorporation tools for effective and efficient nitrogen retention.

While these may not be new ideas, they may be new ways to address the concern of heavy corn residue and good soybean stands while reducing concerns of soil loss. Join us in St. Johns, Mich., on October 4 from 1 to 5 p.m. for the Bioenergy, Cover Crop and Corn Residue Management field day. Several vertical tillage tools will be demonstrated on corn residue and participants will have an opportunity to evaluate each tool’s function. In addition, we will demonstrate the rapid incorporation of cover crop seed and the incorporation of manure.

The Bioenergy, Cover Crop and Corn Residue Management field day will be held at the St. Johns Bioenergy Research Farm. Researchers will discuss corn residue management, as well as bioenergy and cover crops. Biomass harvest and bioenergy processing demonstration will be held throughout the afternoon. Equipment demonstrations including vertical tillage, chopping corn heads, corn stover harvest and cover crop establishment with slurry manure seeding will be conducted. The farm is located on Scott Road, just north of M-21 in St. Johns, Mich. (view map).

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