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user picture Paul Carter
  • 2300
  • Polk County, Iowa

How much tillage is needed this fall? Is tillage needed this fall?

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At 10 p.m. this past Monday night while headed south in northern Iowa on the freeway I noticed a farmer doing what appeared to be chisel plow tillage after corn harvest in the dark by tractor light. I wondered about the purpose and the urgency on October 11 of this tillage operation.

(Rain was forecast for Tuesday morning so that may have been a factor?).

What are thoughts from those on the TopYield.Ag network about how much tillage is needed this fall in the Midwest US?

Or, is tillage needed this fall?

Below are two interesting articles that offer good perspectives on this question.

https://www.farmprogress.com/crops/fall-tillage-benefit-or-detriment-soil

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In this episode of the Nutrient Management Podcast, three University of Minnesota researchers discuss soil management and nutrient issues. A transcript of the podcast is also at this link.

https://blog-crop-news.extension.umn.edu/2021/10/from-cover-crops-to-tillage-how-soil.html

  • How do erosion and tillage practices impact nutrients in the soil and nutrient management? 
  • After a dry spring and summer, what should growers know about soil and nutrient management heading into the fall? Is deep tillage to break compaction a good idea this year?
  • How can farmers better manage soils to avoid nutrient issues? Are cover crops a good idea this year?
  • Conservation
  • Cover Crops
  • Crop Management
  • Nutrient Management
  • Soil Health
  • Soil & Water Management
  • Sustainability
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The Soil Health Institute and the Soil Health Partnership issued some economic studies earlier this year on the economic benefits of no till and cover crops in soil health management systems that on average greatly improved farm profitability. Here are some key results of the Soil Health Institute study:

  1. Increased net income for 85% of farmers growing corn and 88% of farmers growing soybean,
  2. Reduced the average cost to grow corn by $24/acre and soybean by $17/acre, and
  3. Increased net farm income by an average of $52/acre for corn and $45/acre for soybean.

Some farmers, especially in places like Minnesota and northern Iowa, report that no till will not work on their farms because the soils are to cold and clayey. I've seen no till work well even in Canada, but I encourage producers with those concerns to consider strip till which results in only about 1/3 of the field being tilled, so soil health is still improved on the majority of the field. Strip till works well if you're injecting manure, in which case at least some disturbance is unavoidable. 

I would say that fall tillage is not needed on most farms. Not this year nor any year. No till will work on most farms and will improve profitability through reduced passes and reduced diesel use, and over time (usually three years or longer) will improve soil health and yields (especially when combined with cover crops), and reduce inputs like fertilizer (and also crop protection products when coupled with cover crops).

 

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I’ve been using no-tillr 20 years. My soil structure more than compensates  for any compaction or benefit I would receive from tillage. Water infiltration and organic matter retention has improved my soil health and improved my yields. Don’t make a long term mistake this Fall being tempted to till with dry soil conditions. 

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Sean and Kent: Thanks for those responses and perspectives. Good point on strip till for the north. 

Would either of you or others on the TopYield.Ag network have an up-to-date map of no-till and strip-till adoption by region and state in the USA?

I have this one from a posted presentation screen snip, but it is hard to see the details. The reference states this is from the 2017 Census of Agriculture, with the 2004 map compared to more current information. It's "foggy" but appears to show the lag in northern Iowa and Minnesota that Sean referenced.

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