Explaining why so many farmers are talking about vertical tillage is probably easier than determining if it's right for you. First and foremost, many farmers would like to cut down on tillage activities due to fuel and labor costs, but aren't sure if they are ready to go all the way to no-till. Vertical tillage would seem to offer a chance to transition to no-till. For no-tillers, it's a chance to perhaps overcome some of the drawbacks to no-till, including soils that are wet and dry up in the spring.
Tom Bechman rode with a farmer, Kevin Thompson, Morgantown, as he pulled a rented Landoll tool through the field. The secret is obviously shallow depth and high speed. It gives a chopping action without disturbing the soil at a deeper depth. He ran about two inches deep at 9.6 miles per hour, pulling a 23-foot machine with a 250 horsepower tractor.
He ran the field I was in with the tool because it was slightly wetter than some other no-till fields. He was hoping running the tool would open the surface and dry it out. Tony Vyn, Purdue University tillage specialist, says getting soils to dry out faster can be a plus, but there's a major caution. If soils are wet enough when you run the tool to cause soil compaction, then you shouldn't run the tool.
What we offer here is a picture-by picture description of the results. Bechman personally planted into both a no-till field of stalks and the field where the machine ran, side-by-side. He was impressed where the machine ran, because placement seemed more consistent on depth and spacing. There were no root balls or stalks to get into the way.
Two surprises followed. First, when Bechman did residue counts, the no-till field averaged 82% cover after planting, using the knotted rope method. But the vertically-tilled field still averaged 70%. The difference was that the pieces were much smaller in the vertically tilled field.
Second, when he took stand counts 16 days after planting the no-till field, and 13 days after planting the vertically-tilled field, using a random spot selection process, the population in both fields came out nearly identical. Both were about 140,000 plants per acre. The seeding rate was 168.000 seeds per acre.
The second finding wasn't a surprise to Vyn. Limited research findings here and in Ontario indicate that despite the difference in appearance, so far researchers have seen little advantage for vertical tillage of corn stalks going to beans, and no difference in stand establishment. The only advantage would be if it allowed you to plant sooner.
Check out the slideshow on this page for a closer look.