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Tillage Options for Farmers

Today’s conservation-minded farmers seem to constantly be exploring new tillage practices.

Before a farmer can begin to grow a crop, he must first till the land. New advances in conservation and efficiencies have created more options than ever before, as farmers utilize modern farming methods and equipment to get the most from their land in both the long and short term.

New Tillage Equipment

New equipment for effective and efficient tilliage is coming to the market as technology advances. In 2018, John Deere released a new 2430 chisel plow and 2430C nutrient applicator featuring TruSet technology, radial tires, and a new rear hitch.

The plow is designed to break up and level soil, even through heavy crop residue.

Standard equipment TruSet technology allows farmers to adjust shank depth in increments of .10 inch from the tractor cab, and gives farmers up to 900 psi downpressure control of the rear rolling baskets. While in the field, operators can switch between four preprogramed custom settings, or make setting adjustments as needed.

New radial tires improve flotation and transportation and help reduce field compaction.

The equipment also offers options for rear attached finishing components.

Kinze Manufacturing introduced its new Mach Till at the February 2018 National Farm Machinery Show, featuring hybrid horizontal tillage that combines the benefits of conventional disks, vertical tillage, and soil-finishing products into one tool.

The versatile equipment integrates speed, good soil finish, and uniform residue management to leave the soil in optimal condition for improved soil structure, faster germination, and erosion control.

Buying Used Tillage Equipment

Tillage equipment can be a good bargain on the used equipment market.

Due to transporting difficulty (the wings must be removed for loading), used tillage equipment is mostly sold locally. That can limit potential buyers and keep prices down.

Equipment values can be also be depressed in winter months due to the number of retirement sales.

The exception is vertical-tillage instruments, gaining in popularity as interest in the practice increases.

Some of the best values to be had out there are late-model disks.

Successful Farming’s Dave Mowitz analyzed sale prices on 2013 30- to 40-foot-wide disks in the April 2016 issue of Successful Farming magazine and discovered that like-new implements were selling for 60% of the price of a brand-new disk.

The big feature influencing asking prices is usually accessories, particularly finishing attachments. Mowitz says the accessories that boost the asking price on a disk the most include hydraulic fore-and-aft leveling, hydraulic wing control, and rolling finishing baskets.

Good examples of vertical-tillage implements, late-model disks, and other tillage equipment can be seen in the Pocket Price Guide.

Making Tillage Adjustments

All equipment requires regular maintenance to perform properly. Tillage equipment is no exception.

Before the tiller hits the field, there are elements that require a thorough inspection. There should be no signs of cracks in welds on the hitch and frame, or loose attachments or bushings. The hydraulic system, tires, and lights all need a check, as do the soil-engaging tools, shanks, and finishing attachments.

Should I Strip-till?

Today’s conservation-minded farmers seem to constantly be exploring new tillage practices.

Strip-tilling, the practice of tilling narrow 6- to 12-inch-wide strips between rows, is gaining in popularity. The practice offers reduced soil erosion and faster soil warm-up. Strip-tilling also conserves energy and fuel, while releasing less carbon into the atmosphere and maintaining higher levels of soil organic matter.

Tests have shown little to no yield difference between tillage practices.

Vertical Tillage

Vertical tillage often comes with a varying definition, but in short it loosens the top 2 to 3 inches of soil and breaks down crop residue, increasing soil contact with the residue and encouraging breakdown of stalks. It improves infiltration and reduces runoff, speeds warming and drying of the soil, and creates more uniform conditions across the field.

Equipment manufacturers are coming on board with vertical tilling offerings, while some producers are adapting existing equipment for the task.

Why Do Farmers No-till?

Over time, tillage strips away topsoil, at sometimes staggering levels. In 2003, the tillage erosion loss of 27 tons per acre per year was nearly 5½ times as much as the natural 5 tons per acre loss per year. Tillage erosion can trigger wind and water erosion.

To stop the damage, most farmers have adopted some level of no-till field preparation.

Even when using methods that produce minimal ground disruption, the experts advise: Slow down when tilling and planting, vary tillage depth for less intense tillage on slopes and deeper tillage on heavier soils and high-residue areas, and move the residue – not the dirt.

Adopting no-till practices used to be a five- to 10-year process. Not so much anymore. With proper implementation and follow-through, farmers can see results in three to five years.

Keep in mind, it is not enough to simply stop tilling. The practice must be accompanied by a crop rotation strategy designed to promote diversity and soil health.

Remember, it takes much longer to restore soil than it does to destroy it.

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