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Fall or spring tillage?

Jeff Caldwell 09/27/2010 @ 4:09pm Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

Unlike last year, the way this fall's shaping up in the Corn Belt, you may actually have time to take care of fall tillage.

With harvest progressing ahead of schedule, the window's open for fall tillage if that's part of your plan. If you're on the fence, consider this: "Tilling soil during spring potentially may lead to soil compaction, not be very effective in soil fracturing due to high soil moisture, potentially smear soil, and create large sized soil clods," say Iowa State University Extension specialists Mahdi Al-Kaisi and Mark Hanna, an agronomist and ag engineer, respectively.

The specialists say fall tillage has more potential upside than tilling in the spring. But, that doesn't mean it's that cut-and-dried. If you're dead-set on tilling, it's better to do it in the fall, as a general rule. But, don't overlook other ways to take care of your soil that can be better for the ground in other ways, Al-Kaisi and Hanna say.

"If tillage is necessary, fall tillage is a better option because soil moisture is generally below field capacity; there is less potential for soil compaction; and soil temperature is suitable," they say in a university report. "However, tillage in general needs to be the last management option considered for improving soil tilth and productivity. There are alternatives that are equally as effective as conventional tillage. Site specific conditions, soil quality consideration, water quality consideration and economics of tillage need to be included in the decision whether to till."


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