Vertical tillage offers both benefits and challenges for farmers

Full width vertical tillage increased soybean yields on fine- textured soils and soybean stands may improve. However, there are indications that just one pass may decrease soil quality.

Editor’s note: This article is from the archives of the MSU Crop Advisory Team Alerts. Check the label of any pesticide referenced to ensure your use is included

Full width vertical tillage on corn stubble just ahead of soybeans in the spring is used to improve soybean stand and yield while managing corn residue. The straight or fluted coulters lightly till 2 to 3 inches of soil while they cut up and incorporate residue. The system also helps to level soil and increase decomposition of residue while leaving over 30 percent residues on the surface. This residue management tool is considered mulch tillage by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and producers in conservation programs should check with their local office to see that it maintains their eligibility.

Level fields, mulched cornstalks and fluffed soil make a nice looking field in the spring, but can it pay for the estimated $7.90 an acre it cost for one pass? In 8 of 40 locations having finer-textured soils, Ontario researchers saw a 3 to 5.4 bushel per acre increase (Salford RTS). However, the average yield increase across all 40 sites was 2 bushels per acre. Michigan MSU Extension educators documented a 3.8 bushel per acres increase in soybean yield in just one of 5 sites in 2010, however, a significant increase in stand was seen in two of the five sites. Both the Salford RTS and Turbo Disc 330 were used in sites with stand increases, while only the Turbo Disc site reported a yield increase.

Using this system to breakup surface compaction in long-term, no-till fields may come at a cost. Early research at Kansas State University found a decrease in water infiltration and soil particle size after just one pass.

Knowing the soil as well as using vertical tillage in high residue environments leaving over 30 percent residue on the surface are management factors that will enhance the outcomes. Yes, there are benefits, but only when used in the right situation.

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