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Take the time to learn more about your tillage system

The crops are harvested, the bins are full and the equipment is stored in the hangar, what now?

This is a great time of year to re-evaluate your tillage system and consider a few points: which system are you implementing, why did you choose this system, and are there any changes that can be made. made to improve soil health and productivity?

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The dearest thing a farmer can say is “this is how we’ve always done it”.

Let’s first think about some of the more common types of tillage. Among a range of tillage systems are conservation tillage (more than 30% of the soil surface covered with crop residues), direct seeding, strip tillage and reduced tillage (cover 15 to 30% residue). For many reasons and benefits, many farmers now use some form of conservation tillage and no longer rely solely on conventional tillage. Plus, being able to properly classify your tillage system can help you make improvements and adjustments to better suit your farm and fields.

All tillage systems have advantages and disadvantages

There are many resources available that give in-depth comparisons between systems, but the purpose of this article is to challenge you to think more deeply about your management practices, which will be primarily aimed at no-till systems. All tillage systems have advantages and disadvantages, and these may differ from farm to farm and from field to field, but it’s up to you to do the job. survey to find out which system will help you manage your soil to the best of your ability.

A recent Crops and Soils Magazine article titled “Strategic Tillage Has Its Place in No-Till Agriculture” by Megan Sever examines in detail some of the challenges that arise when implementing a no-till system. Some of the main issues that can arise in a no-till system, a few of which are discussed in his article, include nutrient and herbicide stratification, perennial weed management (especially woody species and resistant weeds. herbicides), compaction, water infiltration, seed bed preparation and accumulation of diseases and insects.

Get into strategic tillage. Strategic tillage, which can be implemented every 5-10 years in a no-till system, can be used as part of your ‘toolbox’ for areas such as compaction reduction, integrated management weeds / diseases / insects (cycles of disruption and reduction of environments), incorporating soil residues and organic matter deeper into the soil and “mixing” in layered immobile nutrients that would otherwise not be available to the soil. absorption by the plant due to its absence in the root zone.

Other possible benefits may include water infiltration, reduced nutrient runoff, and increased yield, although more research is being done to verify these benefits. The most constant challenges I have seen firsthand with continuous no-till systems are weed control, especially woody perennials and herbicide-resistant weeds, and compaction. In some cases, fields become so compact that water cannot seep through the soil profile and crop roots find it difficult to reach appropriate depths for adequate absorption of nutrients and moisture.

According to a series of studies carried out at the University of Nebraska, a single, well-planned and targeted strategic plowing pass was found to have very little risk of negatively impacting the soil qualities that would have been achieved through to continuous direct seeding. These studies are summarized by Charles Wortmann and Humberto Blanco in their article “Strategic tillage for the improvement of no-till cropping systems”.

Factors to Consider Before Going Forward with a Strategic Plow Pass in a No-Till System

There are several factors to consider before going ahead with a strategic plowing pass in a no-till system, one of the most important being soil moisture. If the soil is too wet, strategic till will not be able to effectively break up existing hard plateaus and may in fact contribute to additional compaction.

Another important factor to consider is the inherent risk of erosion that is associated with any type of tillage. As Sever points out in his article, strategic tillage can be implemented with any method such as strip tillage or conservation tillage and use a range of tools, including plows, discs, scissors, routers, vertical tillage tools, etc.

Using the right tool at the right time can help reduce risks associated with tillage and could have beneficial effects on factors that would otherwise limit crop yields.

There is a lot of complexity in knowing when to choose to implement strategic tillage, how to do it, and analyzing whether it is actually having an impact on soil productivity. Even if you think this is the wrong thing for you, keep this option in mind as part of your management “toolbox”.

There is much more research to be done in this area to provide a clearer picture of what actually happens when strategic tillage is used in a continuous field with no tillage. If you would like to know more about this topic, see the Agronomy Journal article “A Single Tillage in a Long-Term No-Till System on Dryland Crop Performance”.

The productivity of your soil is vital to being able to produce a profitable crop, especially as nutrient prices continue to soar. Don’t let the health of your soil be the limiting factor. If issues like compaction or nutrient stratification have long limited the productivity of your no-till fields, it may be time to make some adjustments.

I like to remind people of a quote that has been attributed to Paul Harvey that reads: “Despite all of our accomplishments, we owe our existence to a six inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it is raining. Take care of your soil, and it will take care of you.

Frank Becker is an Integrated Pest Management Program Coordinator OSU Extension Agriculture & Natural Resources and can be contacted at 330-264-8722.