Agronomist: Consider History, Not Drought, During Fall Tillage

Farmers should consider the short- and long-term effects of fall tillage on their fields and not just the effects of the drought on this year’s crop, a Purdue Extension agronomist says.

Tillage loosens and rearranges soil aggregates with the intent of establishing a better foundation for crop seed placement and root growth, but the drought itself has already accomplished deep cracking and loosening of some soils. The drought also reduced the post-harvest crop residue that is often used as an additional justification for tillage.

“Tillage decisions should never be based on one year’s crop yield,” Tony Vyn said.

A farmer’s natural reaction to a drought year is disappointment, and that may lead to what Vyn called “revenge tillage.”

“I don’t want farmers to overestimate the need for fall tillage just because of the 2012 drought and poor crops,” he said. “It’s important to adopt a tillage system that leaves topsoil uniformly in place to build up a whole field’s resiliency in root-zone water retention over time.”

He urged farmers to exercise caution and always be aware of the soil loss risk, saying they should examine soil conditions and crop yields over a number of years when considering tillage.

“The early harvest may promote fall tillage, and the disappointment factor may further motivate farmers to till ground,” Vyn said. “But often we don’t know how an individual year’s yields would have changed with more or less tillage.

“It’s been consistent that there are very few yield-related reasons for doing fall tillage on well-drained soils in a corn-soybean rotation. There’s more justification when a field is on a corn-corn rotation or it has poorly drained soils. “

In addition to considering tillage in fields on a corn-corn rotation, Vyn recommended that farmers consider limited fall tillage for fields with a history of compaction, high clay content, lack of systematic drainage or fields with very slow-drying soils.

He also advised farmers to consider the risks of fall tillage on their fields, especially in sloped areas. They should consider the amount of topsoil that could be lost, and the future yield loss in those eroded areas, if they bury residue that could be left to provide protection from runoff.

“Tillage has a permanent effect that can forever change soil water-holding capability on slopes,” Vyn said.

Normally, the protective residue cover and greatly reduced soil disturbance associated with no-till mean less evaporation loss and higher soil water availability to roots. But this year, no-till fields did not provide as much protection against the drought as expected.

The early-season onset of high temperatures and lack of rain limited both root growth and shoot growth in 2012. Corn and soybean varieties differ in their relative rooting ability under stress conditions, but rooting in all varieties after the early seedling stage depends on energy reserves coming from shoot growth.

“The near-surface soil was so dry, lack of tillage meant more resistance to root penetration, meaning corn or soybean plants in those fields sometimes experienced more drought stress before flowering than other tilled fields, despite the crop residue cover,” Vyn said. “But we may never see such a severe, early drought occur with that combination of timing and high temperatures again.

“A later-season drought occurring after deep early root establishment would have favored no-till more.”

If farmers decide to practice fall tillage, they can choose from several management techniques. Standard primary tillage procedures include using a disk, chisel plow, deep ripper, moldboard plow or strip tiller.

Vyn said agronomists favor strip tillage because it allows for minimal soil mixing and residue incorporation while preparing fields for earlier seeding of spring crops, and it can be combined with fertilizer application.

“It’s a proven, versatile tillage practice that creates a warmer, drier zone of soil in the spring that ensures timely seed placement in both corn-soybean and corn-corn rotations,” Vyn said. “Precision automatic guidance systems have also simplified crop row placement in the center of the loosened strips.”

He said there’s still time yet for farmers to decide whether fall tillage is needed for their fields and that they shouldn’t rush the decision. With fall rains, farmers should be cautious and not rush fall tillage on soils that may be too wet.

Topics: ,

Leave a Reply

Crop Inputs Stories

Crop InputsPlatform Specialty Products To Acquire Arysta LifeScience
October 20, 2014
Once the acquisition is complete, Platform Specialty Products will combine Arysta LifeScience with previously acquired companies Agriphar and Chemtura Crop Solutions. Read More
MicronutrientsMicronutrients Going Macro
September 9, 2014
Between 2014’s fantastic growing conditions and a heightened awareness on plant nutrition, the major players in micronutrients are gearing up for another big year. Read More
FertilizerFall Fertility 2014: Forecasting Fertilizer Use
September 7, 2014
Great crops this year have tapped the soil, and fall work is definitely called for, but how challenging will that get? Read More
FungicidesSudden Death Syndrome, Brown Stem Rot Reported In Indiana Soybeans
September 3, 2014
Farmers and retailers should be watching for symptoms of these two diseases over the next few weeks as they are best managed through preventative methods. Read More

Trending Articles

Matt Hopkins15 Best New Agriculture Apps Worth Downloading In 2014
December 16, 2013
These latest agriculture apps are sure to help ag professionals do their jobs more efficiently in 2014 and beyond. Read More
Seed/BiotechMonsanto Offers New Support For Ferguson, Area Communities
October 8, 2014
Monsanto Co. has committed $1 million in new support for several collaborative efforts in Ferguson, MO, and surrounding communities in North St. Louis County. Read More
Seed/BiotechUnapproved Genetically Modified Wheat Found In Montana
October 3, 2014
USDA reports that one year after discovery of Monsanto's unapproved wheat in a single Oregon field disrupted U.S. wheat export sales, the GMO wheat has again been found in Montana. Read More
Equipment2014 Product Of The Year Voting
September 19, 2014
Many new products were introduced to the ag retail marketplace this year. From this group, CropLife IRON and its consulting partners have selected five finalists for the Product of the Year award. Please cast your vote today to help us determine the winner. Read More
FertilizerFall Fertility 2014: Forecasting Fertilizer Use
September 7, 2014
Great crops this year have tapped the soil, and fall work is definitely called for, but how challenging will that get? Read More
CropLife 100CHS To Build $3 Billion Fertilizer Plant In North Dakota
September 5, 2014
The fertilizer plant in Spiritwood will be the single largest investment in CHS history, as well as the single largest private investment project ever undertaken in North Dakota. Read More

Latest News

Seed/BiotechSyngenta Ranked A Top 10 Biotech Employer For Third tim…
October 20, 2014
Syngenta ranked in the top 10 among the world’s top biotech employers, according to an annual survey conducted by Science magazine. Read More
CropLife 100Wheat Growers Break Ground For New Facility At Kennebec
October 20, 2014
Wheat Growers has broke ground for a state-of-the-art shuttle loader grain handling, fertilizer and agronomy facility in Kennebec, SD. Read More
FertilizerVerdesian Life Sciences Signs Agreement With Los Alamos…
October 20, 2014
Verdesian Life Sciences has signed a licensing agreement with Los Alamos National Laboratory to develop and market LANL’s latest nitrogen enhancement technology for plants. Read More
MicronutrientsStoller Group Announces Groundbreaking At New Office Bu…
October 20, 2014
Jerry Stoller, founder and president of Stoller Group, announced the groundbreaking at the site of the company’s future headquarters in Read More
Crop InputsBioSafe Systems Opens New Production Facility In Nevada
October 20, 2014
BioSafe Systems has completed construction of a state-of-art production facility in Sparks, NV, for its line of activated peroxygen products. Read More
Crop InputsPlatform Specialty Products To Acquire Arysta LifeScien…
October 20, 2014
Once the acquisition is complete, Platform Specialty Products will combine Arysta LifeScience with previously acquired companies Agriphar and Chemtura Crop Solutions. Read More
Seed/BiotechEPA Approves Dow’s Enlist Duo Herbicide
October 15, 2014
The Enlist Weed Control System, breakthrough technology to fight resistant and tough weeds, has received the long-awaited green light from federal regulatory authorities. Read More
MicronutrientsGypsum On Farms Could Help Keep Water Clean, Not Green
October 14, 2014
Gypsum, which has roots in the past as a farm soil treatment, also may have a bright future, and not just as a booster of crops but also as a protector of water. Read More
Photo credit: The United Soybean Board/The Soybean Checkoff.
Crop InputsVerdesian Grows Sales Staff
October 14, 2014
The new account managers will drive sales growth and support relationships with key customers in the plant nutrition and seed treatment and inoculants product categories. Read More
WebinarsUpcoming Webinars
October 14, 2014
Register for one of our upcoming Webinars or access our archive of past Webinars to view recordings of presentations that may be of interest to you. Read More
CropLife 100The Andersons Purchases Six Grain Elevators, Four Agron…
October 14, 2014
The Andersons has acquired Auburn Bean and Grain of Auburn, MI, which will increase the storage capacity of its Grain Group by about 13%. Read More
StewardshipThree Ohio Ag Retailers Honored With 4R Certification
October 13, 2014
The 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification Program has announced its first three agriculture nutrient service providers to achieve certified status. Read More
Eric SfiligojEntering Agriculture’s New Phase
October 13, 2014
The market’s giddy ride the past few years might be coming to an end in 2015, warns one industry insider. Read More
Eric SfiligojWar And Green Peace
October 11, 2014
A one-time member of Green Peace recently explained why he left the organization after 15 years. Read More
StewardshipCover Crops Add To Farm Sustainability
October 10, 2014
Farmers nationwide find cover crops to be a tool that helps groundwater, prevents erosion, builds soil quality and complements existing best management practices. Read More
EquipmentMeeting Changing Liquid Storage Needs
October 10, 2014
Tank and containment choices are expanding with shifts in farming practices and the economy. Read More
StewardshipEDF Launches Initiative To Reduce Fertilizer Pollution …
October 9, 2014
The effort will engage farmers and businesses throughout the supply chain to transform the way fertilizer-dependent grain crops are grown and sourced. Read More
ManagementMACA 2014: The State Of The Agricultural Industry, And …
October 9, 2014
The trade association’s annual gathering featured speakers from across agriculture and beyond. Read More