If you are transitioning from conventional tillage to vertical tillage or no-till, the first step is to remove all density layers. Density layers are caused by plowing, disking, and field cultivating (horizontal tillage). The best way to remove them is to use an in-line sub-soiler. If sub-soiling is done correctly, you win with increased yields. Do it incorrectly, and you just wasted a lot of time and fuel. To achieve the desired results, you must shatter the ground horizontally between the shanks a minimum of 6" below the surface. Selecting a point design that promotes fracture without blowout is important as well. In general, your depth needs to be half of your shank spacing (13" to 15" deep for 30" spacing). If your top soil won’t allow 15" depth, consider 24" spacing with 10" to 12" depth.
Maintain Density and Manage Residue
Once you have removed all density layers, you need to maintain them from year to year. At times, you will have to harvest or plant in less than ideal conditions. Fall is a good time to fix those issues for the new planting season. Turbo-Chisel® is a great tool to remove compaction layers up to 12" deep and horizontally fracture a minimum of 4" deep. It sizes residue, dislodges root balls, incorporates residue, and leaves a smooth, level surface for one follow-up pass in the spring. This is an excellent method for continuous corn-on-corn operations.
Fall Residue Management
When density layers are not present but residue management is needed, a pass with a vertical tillage tool like Turbo-Till®, Turbo-Chopper®, or Turbo-Max® will not only size residue but also maintain a uniform density. These machines also work well in a no-till operation to manage residue without burying a lot of residue. A shallow, vertical tillage tool needs to do several things well. It needs to:
- Open up the soil profile to allow water to be absorbed instead of running off.
- Size residue into planter-manageable pieces.
- Not add horizontal layers.
- Get the residue in contact with the soil for faster decomposition.
- Lace and anchor residue to the ground.
- Work soil to a consistent depth across the entire width of the tool.
In a five-year Farm Journal study, vertical tillage corn out-yielded conventional tillage corn by 12.7 bu/ac. Some soil types did better – some a little less – but all benefited from vertical tillage.