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Don’t Fall Into These 9 Tillage Pitfalls

Take care to minimize damage from spring tillage.

Spring is usually not the best time for tillage because of the wet conditions and how those could effect soil and agronomic outcomes. These problems are directly related to crop yield later in the year.

Pitfalls to avoid:

  1. Soil compaction and destruction of soil structure (caused by tilling in wet conditions). This makes the soil more porous and allows air and water to move in the soil.

  2. Lack of fracturing. Wet soil doesn’t fracture, it forms clods.

  3. Reduction of seed-to-soil contact and bad seed bed conditions. Tilling is aimed at better seed-to-soil contact, but tilling in wet soil will nullify your efforts.

  4. Poor root development. Bad tilling = bad soil = rootless corn (or other crops) during the crop’s early development.

  5. Restricted roots. Later in development, crop roots will not be able to grow beyond dirt clods that form during spring tillage, leaving plants with shallow, deformed roots.

  6. Reduction of sub-soil moisture. This can greatly affect your yield, especially during dry years.

  7. Potassium (K) deficiency. This can be caused by soil-compaction.

Any or all of the above factors can and will affect the field’s yield, dropping it by 10-20%. There are also environmental damages to consider.

  1. Soil erosion. Spring is a particularly bad time of year for this with heavy rains and snow melt.

  2. Damage to soil structure. Any tillage causes some soil damage by not allowing as much water to penetrate or sub-soil recharge. Tillage also makes it so that organic matter, nutrients and sediments to waterways are lost.

In conclusion, take care when tilling and be sure not to till when the soil is above capacity (you’ll know this when the drainage tiles are running). This is the worst time to till.

In truth, all farming operations during springtime should be done when the soil is completely dry, including fertilization. To check for moisture, clump some dirt from the field in your fist and check to see if any moisture remains on your palm. If there is even a line of water, the field is too wet to work on.

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