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Tools to keep up your soil

Jeff Caldwell 03/01/2012 @ 11:29am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

A couple of tools -- one old and one new -- look to be helping farmers maintain good, clean soil conditions heading into planting and beyond this spring.

There's been a lot of talk among farmers and agronomists this winter about growing herbicide resistance in different weed species in the Plains and Corn Belt. It's causing some to question their reliance on herbicides alone for weed control, and a return to tillage in some areas, says Curt Davis, Marketing Manager for the Krause Corporation, adding he's seeing increased demand for a couple of different tillage tools lately.

"For maximum control and suppression, either a field cultivator or disk harrow is best," he says. "A disk harrow performs a good function despite its bad reputation. Proactively, you're maybe thinking of breaking the cycle by tilling in the fall after harvest. Reactive tillage comes later on.

"Really, it will go down to how the soil's prepared and your weed pressures and how we go back to inter-row tillage," Davis adds.

But, a good tillage decision should take into account potential weed pressures and more importantly, the soil type. Farmers say history's shown them the tillage decision is easiest when being based on close attention to soil type and structure.

"No-till in some of the sandier dryland acres seemed to help as much on yield as the latest hybrids," says Agriculture.com Crop Talk member k-289. On the other side of the spectrum, Crop Talk member cowfarmer says he sees a "pretty decent yield bump" when he conducts some form of light tillage on his heavier soils in lower-lying areas. "Our black dirt can get dang tight," he says.

The tillage bandwagon may also be getting a lot more riders this year with the continued growth in the popularity of vertical tillage. Davis says he defines vertical tillage as anything that doesn't "create a smear layer in the soil," and sees it as another way to help suppress, but not eliminate, weed pressures. "It's a vertical entry and doesn't impede the growth of young seedlings," he says. "There are similarities there with chemicals. We can't say it's going to control all weeds."

Another part of a healthy seedbed is a lot of room for the soil to breathe. That means no compaction. But, that's often easier said than done. It was becoming enough of a problem for Luke Smith at Rochester, Indiana-based Smith Family Farms that it warranted an equipment change. Now, in addition to switching to tracks on his family's row crop tractors, Smith is trying a new planter this year that has tracks, too.

"After last year, we needed to make some changes to our 36-row planter," Smith says. "It was evident where the planter tires were last year and we have pictures to justify spending the money."

There are drawbacks to tracks, like higher cost, soil piling and "scrubbing" while turning, and slower long-distance roading. But, Smith is looking forward to the floatation the tracks will provide him and hopes the investment pays off.

"We have not run a rug like this before, so we are excited to give it a try," he says.


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