Recent years have seen rapid development of high speed tillage tools with the aim of improving seedbed preparation. So far, vertical tillage has garnered the most attention, but compact discs developed in Europe and designed to work best at 9-12 mph are also gaining in popularity among farmers.
But increasing the speed of tillage also comes with a price, according to Jasa, who calls himself a “no-tillage proponent.” The tradeoff comes because increased tillage speed requires increased horsepower. “Draft and speed make horsepower. A 100 horsepower tractor is capable of pulling a 15-20 foot disc at 3 mph. To go 6-8 miles an hour as they are today, that 100 horsepower tractor can’t pull a disc that wide, so you need a larger tractor, which of course means a higher price tag. And, as speed goes up, the weight of the equipment also has to go up, so you’re also looking at added soil compaction issues.”
Agri-Trend’s Saik, adds, “One could argue that conventional tillage isn’t good at any speed. As soon as you increase the speed using conventional tools, like chisel plows or discs, fracturing of the soil goes up exponentially. You’ve got enough problems with soil fracturing with a disc at 4 mph, but boy at 8 mph you’re completely disintegrating the aggregate structure of the soil. This makes it more prone to compaction and it loses its ability to hold air and water.”
At the same time, Saik says the reality is that there are many areas where excess soil moisture is an issue and tillage helps to get the land prepped for seeding. “This is where vertical tillage is coming in. It’s a lower disturbance way of preparing the soils and has the advantage of doing so at a higher speed. It is showing a lot of potential and continues to grow every year. Farmers like what they’re seeing, so I have to say that vertical tillage is going to continue to grow.”
Unfortunately, much confusion exists when it comes to vertical tillage because not all manufacturers agree on what it is or what it’s supposed to accomplish. (See “What is Vertical Tillage Anyway?” Farm Equipment, March 2014.)
In defining what she believes vertical tillage was designed to do, DeAnn Presley, soil specialist at Kansas State Univ., describes it as “a low impact form of tillage that helps break down tough corn residue more quickly to create a better seedbed for planting.” She adds that the lines are blurry on what constitutes vertical tillage either because of the products available in the market today or the degree of soil movement that is acceptable.
On the other hand, compact discs are marketed as high speed tools developed to produce an improved seedbed by moving soil and covering as much as 60% of the crop residue, which is distinctly different from vertical tillage. It also allows the farmer to move through the field at what might be considered blinding speed, especially compared with most conventional tillage tools.
Jon and Terry Peters of Peters Brothers Farms say they were looking for something better than their field cultivator to manage corn and other crop residues and get the soil ready for planting on the 14,000 acres they work in and around Memphis, Mich. “Jon and I ran the planter and were never happy with the way the field cultivator worked the ground,” says Terry Peters.
They came across the Horsch Joker compact disc at a National Farm Machinery Show and found it to their liking. As they explain, the compact disc lifts the soil profile and breaks up the clumps so there’s none larger than 3 inches across the entire width of the machine. “That’s what you want when you plant,” says Jon Peters. “You don’t want clumpy dirt and you don’t want powder either. Most of the time with this disc, when it’s hot and dry, the ground seldom cracks. If it is, it’s not very bad because the ground’s a nice coarse soil and it stays coarse.”
This, the Peters say, paved the way for the use of a high speed planter this past spring.