Fine-tune your tillage plan by Dan Zinkand, Farm Progress
BEFORE setting out to till fields black after harvesting corn and soybeans this fall, you should think ahead about making the best seedbed for planting next spring, advises Kevin Kimberley. “Tillage is a marriage with your planter, and tillage is one of the most overlooked factors in farming,” says Kimberley, founder of Kimberley Ag Consulting at Maxwell in central Iowa. He consults with farmers throughout the Corn Belt on tillage, planting and fertilizer placement. To handle crop residue at planting in spring, many farmers still want to turn their f elds black in the fall, he says. They say poor tillage is better than nothing at all. However, approaching fall tillage with the same focus as planting can reduce problems that routinely cost corn growers at least 12 to 20 bushels per acre, Kimberley says. “Every year when I travel through the Corn Belt and Great Plains, I see uneven emergence of corn and soybeans being the biggest robber of yield. Uneven ear placement indicates the corn emerged at different times in the field,” he notes. And many times, the bushels lost due to uneven emergence can be staggering.
Several years ago, Kimberley found a field of corn where uneven emergence cost the grower 63 bushels per acre. While that was back in the days of $6 corn, it’s still $220.50 per acre with $3.50 corn. On 1,000 acres, that’s $220,500. “An amount which would cover input expenses or cash rent, or could be your profit for the year,” he notes. Till right, plant right Done right, fall tillage will result in better soil structure and soil consistency, as well as level the fields, he says. Done wrong, tillage turns fields into high, hard ridges of soil and holes filled with fine, loose dirt. “So many farmers want the ground to be black in the fall, and it doesn’t need to be black,” Kimberley says. “With black ground, it’s been loosened. If your crop residue is all buried, that means you have gone too deep. You’ve run wings.” He adds, “When we blow the soil loose and apart every year with wings on the tillage implement, we just keep repacking the soil. Blow it apart to a depth of 12 inches deep and the tractor tires will fall down 12 inches. The insanity is repeating this year after year.” When scouting cornfields in late summer to estimate the yield potential, check the soil and think ahead to fall tillage and strip tillage, as well as to planting next spring. By doing tillage right, growers can improve their yields.