Fall Tillage: Make the Best Decisions for Your Fields

With the extraordinary crop yield, additional bushels to haul and excessive rain, harvest has moved at a very slow pace. Due to the excess moisture, many fields around Central and Southern Illinois have significant ruts left from combines and grain carts. It’s important to be aware: how we manage our fields this fall could have a big impact on next year’s crop.

When thinking about fall tillage, it is important to understand your objective. Are you wanting to reduce some of the compaction that has been created this year, manage your residue for next spring, or just fill in the ruts that remain? The tool that you use will depend upon what you want to accomplish.

Reducing Compaction

There are several different tools that can be used to reduce compaction if set properly. Identifying the depth of the compaction layer that you need to remove is an important first step. After you have identified the depth, you want to set your tool about an inch below the compaction layer. Make sure the soil is dry enough to create the desired result of fracturing within the compaction layer. The soil should crumble in your hand and not make a ball. If the soil is too wet, you will likely only cut slots and smear the soil, therefore missing the fracturing your soil needs and increasing your problems.

Managing Residue

When thinking about managing residue for next spring, the tool that we use will likely depend on the soil moisture. In areas with dryer soil that have been fortunate enough not to have the continued rains, you might be able to use some sort of disk ripper to help size and bury the residue while reducing some compaction. In areas where soils are too wet to remove compaction, a disk might be the better option. The disk will help size and bury the residue, and the shallow compaction that it will cause will likely be reduced by the winters freezing and thawing. You will also be able to manage the shallow compaction next spring with a field cultivator.

Filling in Ruts

In the fields where ruts have been made from harvest, the disk might be the best choice as well. Areas of the field that were wet enough to leave ruts will probably be too wet to remove the compaction with deep tillage. Filling in the ruts this fall when possible will make it easier to handle in the spring.

Remember to consider what you want to accomplish, and what your soil conditions will allow. Keeping these areas in mind will be key when managing your fields and preparing them for 2015.