Can You Use Vertical Tillage Without Destroying No-Till?

Four years of studies in Kansas show the practice won’t destroy no-tilled soils overnight, but won’t make no-till management issues completely disappear, either.

There's much debate in the no-till community about whether a quick, shallow pass with a vertical-tillage tool will ruin the benefits of no-tilled fields.
 
For the last 4 years, Kansas State University Extension soils specialist DeAnn Presley has made it her mission to find out.
 
Presley has helped spearheaded research in the state to assess the effects of vertical-tillage practices on residue coverage and mass, disease incidence and severity, soil- and residue-borne pathogens, soil moisture and bulk density, and yields.
 
Presley shared the results of this research to date during a recent No-Till Farmer webinar sponsored by Salford. Here’s a summary of what Presley and her research team have found.
 
Effects On Soil. Presley began studying vertical tillage in 2009 on a farm in Jefferson County in northeastern Kansas that had been no-tilled since the 1980s. The effects of vertical tillage were measured against no-till for bulk density, soil aggregate weight diameter, water infiltration and yields.
 
With no-till, bulk density was 1.21 grams per centimeter at 0 to 2 inches deep, and 1.30 at a 2- to 4-inch depth. The section that underwent a vertical-tillage pass measured 1.13 and 1.29, respectively.
 
The mean weight diameter of soil aggregates was 1.62 with no-till and 1.44 with vertical tillage. Infiltration was 44.0 (1.8 inches per hour) for no-till and 21.4 (0.85 inches) for vertical tillage. Those numbers were more significant.
 
“This field had beautiful soil properties to begin with,” Presley says. “For bulk density, you want a less-dense soil, but for a…
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John-dobberstein2

John Dobberstein

John Dobberstein is senior editor of No-Till Farmer magazine and the e-newsletter Dryland No-TillerHe previously covered agriculture for the Tulsa World and worked for daily newspapers in Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Joseph, Mich. He graduated with a B.A. in journalism and political science from Central Michigan University.

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