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All vertical tillage is not created equal

All vertical tillage is not created equal
This agronomist says some vertical tillage tools, if run incorrectly, can do as much harm as a disk.

Whoever said "tillage is tillage" has never talked to Bill Lehmkuhl. The Minster, Ohio, farmer, agronomist and owner of Precision Agri-Services is serious about tillage. If you're going to do it, do it right, he says. Otherwise you can create soil compaction and do serious yield damage to your corn crop.

Most of that damage in one of two ways, he says. Either the most critical set of nodal roots, coming out of the seedling – the third set, are trapped with a compacted trench and have to work their way out. Or, roots start to grow out at an angle, hit a hard layer, and then turn and go sideways until they can go down again.

Vertical tillage tool: There was an explosion in vertical tillage tools over the past few years. Bill Lehmkuhl says that some aren't much better for the soil than disks – it depends largely on type of coulter and gang angle of the disk blades.

Every time they turn and go sideways you risk the potential of giving up yield, he says.

Related: Field Day Shows Impacts Underground Of Different Tillage Practices

Lehmkuhl has definite opinions about vertical tillage tools. "There are big differences between them," he insists. "Some of them are basically just disks." And he's not exactly a fan of disks – if run incorrectly they can create soil compaction and hard, compacted layers that cause roots to run and grow sideways before figuring out how to go down again.

When he compares vertical tillage options, Lehmkuhl first looks at the type of coulters being used. How are they designed, and what do they do to the soil?

Some people run vertical tillage tools to cut and size residue. They are typically run at shallow depths and run at relatively fast speeds. Others run them to "dry out the soil." There's a fine line between moving and disturbing residue to dry out the soil and creating a compacted layer with the action of disk-like blades, he believes.

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.

Gang angle is another big factor, he notes. Can you adjust it? Is it set permanently? If you can run at narrow angles like zero to six degrees, that's one thing. If the angle is up to 18 degrees, you're basically getting the action of a disk, he says.

These are things worth considering when you're choosing between vertical tillage tools, or if you have one and are deciding whether or not to run it in a particular situation.

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