With the increasing attention being paid to soil health and the growing body of knowledge on how healthy soils can contribute to overall yields, there are plenty of terms being used and misused. One of those is vertical tillage. So what is vertical tillage and, more important, should you be doing it?
What It Is
To start, it helps to think of vertical tillage just like you’d think about any form of conservation tillage: as more than just a single operation or piece of equipment. Instead, think of vertical tillage as a choice to actively manage residue and develop or preserve the soil density profile to fit the unique needs of your region, crop or field.
A successful vertical tillage strategy should give you a seedbed with a more consistent soil density and residue placed where it will do the most good based on your specific crop and conditions.
A lot to love, right? There is, but if you’re considering integrating vertical tillage into your operation, there are a few things to remember. First, keep in mind that for weed and fertilizer management, it’s all about the angle you’re running. Vertical tillage does a good job of removing weeds and incorporating fertilizer when ran at a more aggressive angle. However, running a vertical tillage tool at a zero-degree angle will not do a good job of controlling weeds or incorporating fertilizer.
Second, there are a few manufacturers offering what they call vertical tillage tools. Some may give you true vertical “slicing” action, while some may simply be compact or high-speed discs. If there’s a place for vertical tillage in your operation, make sure the tools you’re using are designed to meet your residue management goals.
The Right Tools for the Job
Vertical tillage tools typically use shallow discs set instead of sweeps or deeply concaved discs that create horizontal “rolling” or “shearing” action in the soil. At the same time, vertical tillage tools are designed to size, mix and place crop residue exactly how and where you want — on the surface itself in areas where wind isn’t a major problem or within the top few inches to help keep the residue in place and speed up breakdown.
So how do you know which tool to choose? It all depends on how you want to handle your crop residue.
If you don’t need to incorporate residue very deeply, tools such as our True-Tandem 335VT vertical tillage tool can run ahead of a planter and leave more residue in the top 3 inches of the soil, especially on the surface. It also gives you a flat seedbed floor and helps maximize seed-to-soil contact.
If you’re looking for deeper residue incorporation, tools such as the True-Tandem 335 Barracuda vertical tillage tool will give you more aggressive cutting, mixing and sizing of the residue. You’ll get a “blacker” finish on the surface, with a higher percentage of larger soil clods to help keep residue in place.
But if you need more flexibility, there are tools such as our VT-Flex 435 vertical tillage tool that allow some adjustability. You might go more aggressive in the fall, with a higher gang angle, and then run in the spring with a lower angle for gentler residue sizing.
In the end, the choice of tillage system and equipment should be driven by the needs of your specific crop, soil type and agronomic practices. To learn more about our line of vertical tillage tools, visit www.caseih.com, or see your nearest Case IH dealer.