When going to vertical tillage, there are many different tools and approaches. However, implements mostly fall into one of two categories - vertical finish or vertical tillage.
Shallow-working implements — such as the To The Max harrow from Landoll, the McFarlane Reel Disk, Turbo-Till from Great Plains, the Case IH True-Tandem 330 Turbo and the Supercoulter Plus from Summers — use cutting reels, rolling harrows, blades, coulters and other methods to work just the top inch or two of the soil profile.
These top-only tools are considered shallow vertical tillage or vertical "finishers."
Vertical finish tools can be used to manage residue in the fall or can be run in the spring to create a uniform, desirable seedbed for no-till planters or drills. Finishers promote residue breakdown by putting residue in contact with the soil.
Vertical finish tools work to manage corn root balls. They also break through crusted soil, enhance seedbed warming, aerate the soil, size residue and level out wheel tracks for a more uniform seedbed.
By working no deeper than the seedbed, vertical finish tools ensure that seeds germinate into the type of soil their roots will grow into. A little loose soil below the seedbed, and then even a slightly denser layer, result in restricted root growth.
Dealer Ron Burkhart of Burkhart Farm Center in Bucyrus, Ohio, says vertical finishers are a great tool for no-tillers.
"They can be used in the fall for residue management. It will help speed deterioration of strong-stalked Bt hybrids and uniformly distribute residue," he says. "A lot of no-tillers are using the tool in the spring to work about three-quarter-inch deep to create loose, warm soil over a firm seedbed.
"This can work to dry the ground in wet conditions and break the crust in dry conditions, creating an insulation layer that lets the seed germinate in a good fashion.
AerWay Air-N-Till Technology, Smart-Till from HCC, the Gen-Till II from Genesis Tillage and other tined implements work deeper into the soil profile to aerate and fracture the soil and are considered vertical tillage tools.
"Vertical tillage fractures the top 5 to 8 inches of soil, helping to get oxygen and water into the soil profile," says Mapleton, Ill., producer Charles Rice, who uses a Smart-Till System from HCC. "You can help speed up the breakdown of residue by getting a little soil on it, but the Smart-Till still leaves residue mostly on the soil surface to stop wind and water erosion."
Most of the tools in this category utilize tines that enter the soil profile vertically, punching a hole, and then torque to the side to fracture the soil from side to side without turning the earth.
"You pull the machine at a high rate of speed, 8 to 9 miles per hour. The speed and the angle that the tines enter the soil work to fracture the soil structure," says Bill Meeker, a North Henderson, Ill., no-till corn and soybean producer who uses the AerWay Air-N-Till Technology for vertical tillage in the fall.
Having more water in the ground through the winter maximizes the freeze-and-thaw effect, helping to mellow the soil. Plus, vertical tillage tools can loosen surface compaction — a type of compaction likely found in no-till operations — without turning over a lot of dirt. Tines are often adjustable, allowing producers to regulate how aggressively they want to work the soil.
Also falling into the vertical tillage category are subsoilers. As the name implies, subsoilers work deep in the soil profile and are used to address deeper compaction issues.
When run at the correct depth — usually half as deep as the shank spacing — subsoilers break up compaction with very little surface disturbance. Deep points lift and fracture the soil, allowing for water movement and root growth. Subsoilers typically work between 10 and 16 inches deep.