Why Vertical Tillage?

Why Vertical Tillage?

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The Great Plains ‘True Vertical Tillage’ concept provides a system-based approach that focuses on soil health – working the soil vertically to avoid the creation of compaction layers.

Using horizontal tillage techniques can have the opposite effect, creating compaction layers that restricts a plant's root development and nutrient intake – consequently, reducing yield potential. Compaction layers can negatively affect the moisture content and drainage efficiency of the soil, as well as having a detrimental impact on beneficial organisms, like earthworms and microorganisms.

The Great Plains ‘True Vertical Tillage’ concept creates the vertical openings that allows water movement throughout the soil profile and gives roots the freedom to fully develop. In addition, ‘True Vertical Tillage’ practices leave a uniform, unrestricted soil profile in which the plant can develop a healthy, deep root system that will enable it to fully access the soil’s reserves of nutrients and moisture – contributing to a higher yield at harvest. The ‘True Vertical Tillage’ approach also addresses the importance of managing residue effectively, developing and maintaining consistent soil densities, and creating the ideal seedbed. The term “vertical tillage” has become confused with “surface tillage and residue management.” Although vertical tillage can include surface tillage and residue management, it must also include density management. The first manufacturers to build true vertical tillage units paid very close attention to the goal of soil density reduction to improve root development. In contrast, many new “vertical tillage” designs are disc harrows refitted with low concavity blades and renamed. The low concavity blades are excellent for surface leveling, residue sizing and some weed control. They also allow the disc harrow to run almost as fast as vertical tillage tools without ridging.

    Reduced soil tilling helps both soils and yields

Where discs and vertical tillage tools differ is in density reduction. The backside of concave blades put horizontal pressure into the soil, and as the gangs of blades pass through the soil, they generate waves of pressure under the tool. Blades mounted on angles also don’t roll as freely through the ground and when these angled blades drag across the field surface they cause additional compaction. The shallow operation of these high speed discs tends to bury large amounts of residue in the seed zone, which can negatively impact planter performance and increase disease pressure.

The original definition of vertical tillage when it was first introduced in the mid 1990s involved tillage ahead of the planting equipment that did not create stratification — or a horizontal density layer — under the planter opener that would interfere with root growth. A stratification layer can be described as a “scoured” layer of soil underneath the planter that has high density soil particles that interfere with early root growth. Soil density layers are created when a tillage tool is pulled through the ground. The soil density layer created is equal to the contact area at the bottom of the tool. To farm in a vertical format in which water and nutrients move up and down in the soil profile, it is essential to first remove all horizontal stratification layers from the past and not create new changes in soil density. The McFarlane SPR1000 Seedbed Conditioner was the first tool used to accomplish this job and was arguably deemed the first vertical tillage tool.