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Still Tilling Soybean Stubble….Why?

Save time, labor and money by answering these questions.

Tom Bechman, Editor, Indiana Prairie Farm

December 21, 2009

4 Min Read

More than 30 years after no-till was introduced, and two decades since it became mainstream, there are still a few people who till soybean stubble each fall, and not always on flat ground. Tilling corn stalks on wet ground after a huge crop is one thing. Some would argue even that's not necessary. But tilling soybean stubble in the fall with a disc chisel no less to get ready for next year's corn crop begs a question. Why?


So here's a set of questions we invite you to answer before tilling soybean stubble. If you still think you needed to do so after answering these questions, perhaps it's the right choice for you.


One. Is your slope more than 3%? If it is, you will lose soil to soil erosion if soils are bare.

Two. Is your slope more than 6%? If so, USDA defines it as highly erodible land.

Three. Is your soil well-drained? No-till corn has proven itself on almost all well-drained soils.

Four. How much cover do you have before disturbing soybean stubble? Much less than you think?

Five. How much cover do you have after disc-chiseling soybean stubble? Ditto is the answer.

Six. How many gallons per acre do you burn pulling the disc-chisel? This depends upon size of the machine.

Seven. How much fuel will you burn leveling it before planting next fall?

Eight. How much will you spend on repairs for new shovels, etc. this fall and spring?

Nine. How much does it cost you to own the tractor and disc-chisel you might not need otherwise? Even if they're paid for, it's not free. Your money is tied up.

Ten. What color is the nearest stream or ditch near that field after a big rain?

Eleven. Do you at least leave grass waterways up draws untouched?

Twelve. Do you leave a filter strip of adequate width along streams or ditches?

Thirteen. Are you paying someone to run the machine while you combine?

Fourteen. Is the person you pay reliable, and easy on machinery?

Fifteen. Have you ever compared fall chiseling bean stubble to one-spring pass, to straight no-till on your own farm? If not, how do you know if there's a benefit to ripping?

Sixteen. If you pull the rig yourself, have you ever passed on a son or daughter's game because you were in the field tilling?

Seventeen. No-tillers got funny looks form neighbors 25 years ago. Are you getting funny looks now?

Eighteen. If tillage is necessary, why not moldboard plow as in the old days, vs. disc-ripping.?

Nineteen. Are soils always bone dry when you run this machine? If not, you may be forming soil compaction that winter won't erase.

Twenty. Have you applied lime this fall on low pH ground? That's one of few possible, justifiable reasons to till.

Twenty-on. Are you working in fertilizer to keep it there over winter? Just remember that if soil erodes. It carries nutrients with it, particularly P and K.

Twenty-two. Will you need to trade the disc-chisel more often if you run it on bean stubble too, not just after corn?

Twenty-three. Could your time be spent better elsewhere, say on studying marketing or keeping records, than driving this tractor, or keeping someone else going?

Twenty-four. How many other changes due to technology have you made in your operation in the last 5 years? Perhaps it's been longer since you reevaluated tillage options.

Twenty-five. Can you sleep well at night when it's storming and pouring down rain on fields where you fall-chiseled soybean stubble?

About the Author(s)

Tom Bechman

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farm, Indiana Prairie Farmer

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