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How to do tillage the right way

TAGS: USDA Tillage
How to do tillage the right way
Bill Lehmkuhl says there is a place for deep tillage if it is done correctly.

Look at this picture. It depicts a soybean stubble field where deep tillage with minimal disturbance was performed. If you look closely you'll see it's a fall scene. Was tilling this field a good idea, or just recreational tillage and a waste of fuel?

Related: ISU Agronomist Warns Against Post-Harvest Tillage

Bill Lehmkuhl, Minster, Ohio, a farmer and owner of Precision Agri-Services, Inc., says that all depends on why the tillage was done and how it was done. Was it done to break up compacted layers? Was it done because the farmer is switching to no-till and wants to get rid of compacted layers before he starts?

Good or bad? Did this person deep-tilling in the fall do a good thing or unnecessary thing? If he had a compacted layer, knew where it was, and run an in-line ripper below it while the soil was dry enough to shatter, Bill Lehmkuhl says it was likely a smart trip.

Was it done with an in-line ripper which causes minimal disturbance of the surface residue? From the looks of the surface, that one is an easy answer – little residue was disturbed.

Did the person determine how deep to run before sinking the in-line ripper in the ground? Lehmkuhl says that depends upon where the hard pan the person was trying to break up is located. The best way to tell is dig a pit and find it, he says. He's a big fan of digging pits and studying the soil at various times during the year.

If there was no compacted layer, then Lehmkuhl says there was likely no reason for the tillage. Assume there was a compacted layer.


Vertical tillage tools are designed to run fast and shallow, with the goal of cutting down on residue while leveling out the seedbed. Want to know more? Check out our free report 5 Tips You Need To Know About Vertical Tillage, for pointers on deciding if vertical tillage is right for you.


"Then you need to make sure you are running underneath it, at least a couple inches below it, with the ripper shanks," he says. "You want shattering action between the shank, not boiling up between the shanks. If the shovels on the shanks have wings on them, take your torch and cut them off. They won't help you get the shattering action that you are after to break up the compacted layer."

Related: Hold Off On Tillage, Keep Soil Covered

It also has to be dry to get good shattering when the in-line ripper is run, he says. It's one reason he prefers fall ripping to spring deep tillage. Odds of having drier soils, at least in Indiana and Ohio, are better in the fall.

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