One-Year Spring Tillage Study in Corn & Soybeans

In 2019, a multi-year tillage study was initiated to further learn how different tillage practices impact soil conditions and planter performance, crop establishment, crop development, and grain yield.

February 15, 2021 by AGCO

One-Year Spring Tillage Study in Corn & Soybeans

In 2019, a multi-year tillage study was initiated to further learn how different tillage practices impact soil conditions and planter performance, crop establishment, crop development, and grain yield.

In year one, the study included 3 trials (corn) in Wisconsin* and 1 trial (soybean) in Illinois*. Each trial included 2-3 side-by-side comparisons of different tillage practices, including no-spring tillage at select locations. Tillage treatments varied by location depending on equipment availability. In addition to grain yield, at each location plant population, plant-to-plant spacing, and early season plant growth assessments were all documented.

Results:  
In general, planter performance in relation to plant spacing variability was not significantly different between tillage practices in trial 1 (Table 1). No-till resulted in slightly lower plant spacing variability compared to the high-speed disc in trial 2, whereas the high-speed disc resulted in slightly lower plant spacing variability compared to the rotary finisher in trial 3. However, differences in plant spacing variability in general were very small, and regardless of tillage type were overall sufficient and not yield-limiting.
In trial 1, plant emergence based on final population differed by tillage treatment but had no impact on yield. Overall, no major yield differences were noted across all 3 Wisconsin trials.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the soybean trial, despite differences in measured plant populations between the field cultivator and no-till plots (table 2), yield differences between the two practices was insignificant.

 

 

 

 

Soil conditions at the time of operation can greatly influence the outcome of different tillage practices. In 2019, soil conditions at the time of operation were often either barely fit or too wet resulting in poor seedbeds regardless of tillage type. Consequently, at least in these fields, changing tillage practice had little impact on the overall crop outcome in 2019.  AGCO will continue conducting tillage trials in 2020 and beyond in order to include a wide range of soil types and conditions throughout the Midwest.

Additional Observations from 2019 (observations not exclusive to tillage trial fields):

  • In trial 3, both the high-speed disc and rotary finisher resulted in similar seedbeds (picture 1), which was likely why there was little yield differences between the two practices.
  • When tillage was performed in wet conditions, extremely poor seedbeds ensued (picture 2). Large soil clods is a common problem when tillage is done in wet conditions, particularly for a disc type tool, which can result in non-uniform emergence due to poor seed-to-soil contact. Large soil clods can also be challenging for closing wheels to effectively close the seed furrow.
  • Growers will often use a vertical tillage tool, or other method of shallow tillage, to open the soil for drying in wet conditions. We found that this practice can result in a shallow compaction layer (picture 3), which will result in stunted root development, and therefore, is not recommended. This would be especially problematic if subsequent weather patterns turn dry.
  • In a separate tillage trial, the grower conducted a side-by-side field cultivator versus vertical tillage tool comparison. According to the as-applied downforce map (picture 4), the area worked with a vertical tillage tool required additional downforce pressure than the area worked with a field cultivator in order to maintain constant seeding depth. Tillage practice can drastically alter the amount of applied downforce required to maintain proper gauge wheel weight and achieve constant seeding depth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picture 1: Soil conditions following two different tillage passes

Picture 2: Soil Conditions after tillage in wet soils

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picture 3: Shallow compaction layer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Picture 4: Differences in required row-unit downforce pressure between two tillage practices

Recommendations and Equipment Solutions: 
Sunflower Tillage offers a complete lineup of spring tillage options, such as the 5135 Field Cultivator, 6650 Vertical Tillage tool, and 6333 Land Finisher, for superior seedbed preparation and residue management to maximize planter performance and seedling establishment. Through conducting more of these trials over the next several years, our goal is to compile a large database of yield data to better recommend where these different tools are most suitable for maximum ROI.

Written by  Jason Lee, AGCO Agronomist, North America. Connect with Jason on LinkedIn.

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