A Farm Equipment Special Report: What Will Agriculture Look Like in 2021?

The large, efficiency-driven farms of the future will not engage in random acts of tillage.

"Nobody is winning by attempting to beat the ground into submission with tillage," says Tom Evans, Great Plains Manufacturing. "We're already seeing a significant trend toward less tillage and in the future I believe more attention will be paid to controlling soil density, not just random tillage."

Achieving uniform density is the calling card of the wave of vertical tillage tools to hit the market in recent years. While many farmers have integrated this equipment into their current management systems, the opportunities and advantages of vertical tillage are just starting to be unveiled.

"The concept of vertical tillage is definitely going to grow in the next 10 years," says Jim Boak, national sales manager of Salford Farm Machinery. "There's so much we can do with a vertical tillage tool and the future will see us combining vertical tillage with other field operations."

Learning will continue, too.

"Producers and equipment dealers will be more educated on vertical tillage and know how to do it right. Subsoilers will be run at the appropriate depth, horsepower will be properly matched with the number of shanks pulled and the soil profile will be better managed," Evans says.

Divide & Conquer ... Or Team Up

Vertical finish tools of the future will be teamed with other functions to help reduce field passes and better manage field operations.

Dual or even tri-purpose vertical finish tools would be capable of residue management, seeding and fertilizer application all in one pass, Boak says. These opportunities will be used differently based on geography and crop.

For dryland seeding of small grains, vertical tillage tools can replace the hoe drill and combine tillage, seeding and fertilizer application.

"Vertical tillage tools are capable of applying seed and fertilizer as accurately as hoe drills and at 2.5 times the speed without plugging," Boak says. "They also create fewer opportunities for moisture loss during seeding and make for fewer trips over the field for greater fuel efficiency."

Farmers already using an airdrill or those planting corn or soybeans can use vertical tillage to streamline planting operations.

"I see spring vertical tillage with fertilizer application being used to remove some of the responsibility from seeding or planting. It will simplify and speed up the planting/seeding process because there won't be downtime for filling and added complexity," Boak says.

Leaving a smoother field surface than conventional tillage also will be a driver for adopting vertical tillage.

"Sprayers are traveling at higher rates of speed than ever before, so it's important that fields be even and smooth to allow for faster application without damage to the sprayer or the boom," Boak says.

A Weighty Issue

Especially with fast-moving vertical tillage, Evans does not see tillage implements getting much larger.

"We're starting to see people who want two smaller rigs instead of one gigantic one," he says. "Tillage tools are extremely heavy and trying to fold up a 50-foot tillage tool to transport makes it hard to keep tires under them capable of handling the task. Vertical tillage can be accomplished at 8-9 mph, which makes getting bigger less important."

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