Vertical Tillage: A Gateway Tool To, Or Away, From Conservation?

A growing number of no-tillers are using vertical tillage to overcome challenges in their fields, while maintaining residue on the surface.

Purists may cringe at the thought, but an increasing number of “no-tillers” are folding vertical tillage into their operations.

Sixty participants — about one in every eight — in the 2010 No-Till Farmer No-Till Practices Survey indicated they were using some type of vertical tillage. Kevan Klingberg, a University of Wisconsin Extension specialist, has seen a similar trend, noting that many no-tillers in his area are taking a hard look at vertical options.

“Dairies here are getting bigger and bigger dairies use more corn silage, which means more corn in the rotation. Add in tough Bt stalks and that creates some residue challenges,” he says. “We’re seeing a lot of Wisconsin no-tillers experiment with the shallow vertical-tillage tools to try and chop up some residue without doing a lot of tillage.”

While vertical tillage may lead some producers away from pure no-till, Ohio State University Extension ag engineer Randall Reeder says vertical-tillage tools could have the opposite effect, too.

“These are great tools for transitioning to conservation tillage — sort of a way to wean farmers off of plowing,” Reeder says. “I would hope that in the long run, these producers would possibly transition to no-till.”

Many implements fall under the vertical-tillage umbrella these days, but among the most common for no-tillers commenting in this article are those considered vertical finishers.

These machines typically have a gang of straight, wavy or fluted coulters followed by a harrow and a rolling basket and only work the top 1 to 3 inches…

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Martha mintz new

Martha Mintz

Since 2011, Martha has authored the highly popular “What I’ve Learned About No-Till” series that has appeared in every issue of No-Till Farmer since August of 2002.

Growing up on a cattle ranch in southeastern Montana, Martha is a talented ag writer and photographer who lives with her family in Billings, Montana.

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