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Corn+Soybean Digest

A Touch Of Tillage

It spikes corn yields for this Ohio farmer Bob Featheringill was discouraged with no-till corn. After no-tilling for five years, he was disappointed with his yields.

Featheringill, of Attica, OH, tried all the tools in the book. "I have a whole hayloft of the latest, greatest attachments that will solve all your problems," he says. "The attachments didn't work in my soil type and my operation."

Bill McKibben, his agronomist, points out: "We've seen corn yields taking a 10- to 15-bu/acre hit going from conservation tillage to no-till."

Even with the menagerie of residue movers, Featheringill wasn't getting the 150-bu yield he wanted. Then McKibben recommended an AerWay minimum-till aerator to improve water infiltration, break up the residue and incorporate it lightly.

"In soils with less than 3% organic matter, some sort of tillage is crucial," says McKibben, of Soil Tech in Bluffton, OH.

Featheringill wasn't convinced. "It took me a few years before I'd even look at it," he says. "At that time (mid-1980s), the AerWays were used for pasture improvement in Texas and Florida."

He learned that the tool fits his soils, too. The machine's tines are set at a 2 1/2-5 angle in soybean stubble and 5-7 1/2 in corn residue. With a wider angle, the tines move more residue and soil laterally. Featheringill added a rolling harrow to help smooth the soil for correct seed placement and spacing.

He also incorporated strip-till into the system in 1994. The 15' aerator and strip-till tool are used together ahead of corn. That field pass takes place in fall on flat fields; in spring on more erodible ground.

Featheringill says the tools remove residue, allowing the soil to warm and dry faster.

"I can plant on time and get respectable crops if we don't have over 33% residue," Featheringill points out. "I can get as good of yields as the conventional fellows."

He estimates that the aerator allows him to start planting corn a day sooner and the strip-till tool saves another 1 1/2 days.

Yields have steadily increased, too. "We've hit 200-bu/acre corn in isolated areas," says Featheringill. He farms about 800 acres.

To get higher corn yields, everybody wants a magical solution or an equipment innovation, says Featheringill, who often speaks at conservation tillage meetings.

"First you have to improve drainage," he says.

But, he realizes well-tiled fields aren't always possible on rented land. That's where the AerWay tool and strip-till come in.

"I call myself a high-residue farmer," he says. "All I'm trying to do is manage the residue."

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