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No-till vs. bare soil and all tillage in between

No-till vs. bare soil and all tillage in between
From moldboard plowing to bare soil to no-till planting into cover crops, all within one mile!

Many things determine what kind of tillage system farmers select. In some areas when one respected farmer goes to a different system, others follow suit. Yet in some areas farmers cling to the old ways. If the equipment is paid for and it's worked in the past, they might not see a reason to change.

Related: How to do tillage the right way

The ultimate contrast appeared before my eyes recently when within one mile, I saw moldboard-plowed soybean stubble, plowed this spring; fields worked with conventional tillage but not moldboard plowed, planted with little to no residue left on the surface; and a cover-cropped field that was recently burned down with herbicide in anticipation of planting.

Make your choice: This farmer opted for conventionally tillage, although he was leaving some residue in this field . Tillage choice can vary farm to farm in a community.

Soil types in all three situations, all within one mile of each other, were similar. What was not similar was size of the farming operation, labor available to work the farm, dedication to soil conservation and willingness to try new techniques.

The field that was moldboard plowed is farmed by someone with a small acreage to cover. The farmers with the conventionally tilled fields farm more acres. The partners who planted the cover crop and burn it down likely farm the most acres, and do it with limited help. Time is important to them, and so is protecting soil on gently rolling fields. They don't yet no-till all of their fields.

So which is doing the right way? It sounds like a "to each his own" situation. The farmer who moldboard plows obviously isn't worried about soil erosion, at least not that which results from leaving the soil bare.

Related: Moldboard plowing soybean stubble in the spring? Really?

The farmers who conventionally till but don't moldboard plow don't mind spending money for extra fuel for tillage trips. They also leave little residue on the surface.

The farmers who tried cover crops were obviously looking for benefit from the cover crops in protecting the soil and in improving soil from rooting action. However, they must recover the cost of the cover crop and the burndown. In exchange, they don't have fuel and repair costs for tilling or plowing.

Which is right for you? Only you can decide.


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.


TAGS: Tillage
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