Fall Tillage: Plan Ahead For Spring This Fall

November 13, 2018

The 2018 harvest had many challenges! One of the biggest challenges was an abundance of moisture. When there’s heavy precipitation in the fall, harvest can be challenging. Farmers need to consider how to get in the field to harvest, and if time allows, complete some fall tillage.

Soil compaction is a concern when operating implements on wet soils. Consider using these strategies to limit soil damage and help fields dry out in the spring for quicker planting.

How do we fix the ruts we made?

Many of us had to go against our better judgement in the wetter spots in our fields. If you have ruts in the field from harvest, your gut tells you to aggressively fill them in. Take step back and ask yourself, is this what’s best for my soil structure?  Soil structure is your soil’s number one defense against future soil compaction, and tillage destroys structure.

To fill in your ruts and maintain your soil structure, use light tillage by running equipment at an angle.  Use multiple passes if necessary. These areas will need time to recover and yield has the potential to be affected compared to the non-rutted areas.

Is deep tillage the answer for wet spots I couldn’t harvest?

Disking and vertical tillage I believe are the best options for introducing air into the soil. A light pass no deeper than 3” if the soil is wet will incorporate residue and help prepare the soil for next year. Vertical tillage fluffs up the remaining residue with shallow penetration and minimal movement of the soil. Clods are created from ripping wet soils too deep with a chisel plow of disk ripper. If you use these types of implements, shallow up the shanks and use narrower points to avoid creating clods.

Can I use tillage after frost?

There was research completed by Harold van Es and Robert Schindelbeck done in 1993 on tillage on slightly frozen ground.  Here is what they found: Compared to no frost, they found when the frost layer was .5” to 1”:

  • The soil better supported the equipment’s weight when chisel-plowing to a depth of 8”.
  • The soil below the frost layer was drier and tilled easily.
  • Corn yields weren’t affected
  • Moisture infiltrated quicker in the tilled soil vs. a soil without tillage. This is due to the frozen plated of soil created with frost tillage, as these plates thawed, they quickly diminished.

Make sure you plan ahead for spring this fall, or what’s left of it. Tillage after the frost is very time sensitive and takes more horsepower.  

-Eric Solberg, Eastern Product Agronomist

Categories: harvest, Soils    

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