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To till or not to till, that’s the question

One
of the things the last two or three decades on the prairie will be
remembered for—from an agricultural point of view—is the
widespread adoption of no-till farming. Tillage had become a dirty,
or at least a dusty, word. Cultivators and most types of tillage
equipment that were in high demand up until the 80s and early 90s
were being sold for their scrap metal value at auction sales just a

few years ago. No one wanted to clutter their yard with anything even
remotely associated with turning fields black.

But
that was then. Now, tillage seems to be making a comeback. I don’t
mean to suggest no-till is fading and becoming just another fad. It
is here to stay, and for good reason. But auctioneers many not have
as much trouble finding good homes for those old cultivators if the
new thinking prevails. Some no-till producers are breaking from the
regimin occasionally and ripping fields up.

At
the very least, it looks like the no-till concept may still be
evolving. And some new implement designs, like vertical tillage
systems, are increasing in popularity because of it.

Why
is this happening? For one reason, newer, higher-yielding crops are
leaving a lot of residue on fields, which makes for less than ideal
seedbeds. Getting good soil penetration with no-till seeding under

high-trash conditions can be a challenge. Representatives of
companies that specialize in building tillage implements say their
businesses are currently seeing strong sales for heavy discs, which
are great at incorporating trash to help it break down sooner. Some
producers are now making a tillage pass over their fields every few
years for that reason. Others are targeting specific spots,
regularly.

But
one thing I didn’t really expect to see on the tillage front was
increased interest in using ploughs. According to a press release
that arrived in my inbox last week, one company, Salford Farm
Machinery, is claiming their sales of mouldboard ploughs are
increasing, primarily in the U.S. And they’re now offering models of
up to 14 furrows.

“The
many benefits of today’s crop hybrids can bring challenges, such as
managing the tough residue they leave behind,” says Jim Boak,
Salford’s soil specialist. “Farmers north of I-80 (in Minnesota)

have a smaller window for natural residue decomposition. If you lack
the conditions required for rapid residue decomposition and these
tough crop residues are left untouched, there is increased likelihood
of disease. Not to mention leaving a carpet of residue your planting
equipment is challenged to penetrate.”

Boak
notes that by getting trash to break down more quickly, the plough
can help control diseases such as anthracnose, grey leaf spot, and
mycotoxins like fusarium that cause vomitoxin.


salford plow.jpg

Salford,
a manufacturer of tillage and seeding equipment, claims sales of
their mouldboard ploughs are on the rise again. Photo: courtesy
Salford Farm Machinery.

Are
you one of those turning back to tillage, even on a limited scale?
Are you seeing advantages? What prompted you to do it? Would you ever
consider using a plough again? Grainews will be taking a closer look
at tillage practices in an upcoming issue. So, I’d like to hear your
answers to those questions.

If
you are using tillage in your operation again, let me know why, how
you’re doing it, and what benefits you’re seeing. Send me an email at
[email protected].
I hope to hear from you.

Scott

About the author

Machinery Editor

Scott Garvey is the machinery editor for Grainews.

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