The Evolution of Tillage Practices
Producers have choices when it comes to tillage systems. Historically, soil inversion was the only means of soil management practiced when the grasslands of the Great Plains were initially converted to cropland. Many lessons were learned through the Dust Bowls of the 1930s and 1950s. Americans became aware of the need for soil conservation when dust storms descended on Washington, D.C., and pictures of gully erosion — in the heart the breadbasket of the United States — were published in national newspapers.
click image to zoomFigure 1. Strip-tillage in a wheat field. The first efforts at conservation tillage began with the substitution of a chisel plow for the moldboard plow. This tillage implement, followed by less aggressive disks, pioneered the effort to keep more residue on the soil surface to limit the erosional forces of nature.
In the 1970s a new type of management emerged. The concept of no-tillage became possible with improvements in planting equipment and herbicides. This new approach to farming took many years to master. It required not only a change of equipment, but also a change in management styles and problem solving. Today’s successful no-till producer operates quite differently than the farmer of the 1950s.
A new piece of tillage equipment has emerged on the market: strip-till implements designed to till a narrow (≈ 8 inch) strip on crop row (30 inch) centers. This machine marries some of the benefits of no- till with the benefits of tillage. The region between tilled strips is maintained as a no-till area, while the area where the crop is planted is tilled. Will strip-till become the next generation tool for soil management? This publication looks at some of the data and discusses advantages and disadvantages of using strip-till.
A Solution for Cold Wet Soils
No-till has been largely successful at reducing soil loss from erosion. It also has proven to be better at retaining moisture by improving infiltration and reducing evaporation. On heavy soils in moist environments, high residue levels have delayed planting and resulted in poor early seedling vigor. This has been a problem for corn production in the Midwest. Strip-till was designed primarily to help improve the seedling environment in early spring. Tillage in the fall or spring helps reduce residue levels, dries excess soil moisture, and causes soil temperature to rise because of increased exposed to the sun. To gain the benefits of tillage in the seed zone, while retaining the needed soil-erosion and moisture-saving benefits of no-till, a hybrid tillage system, strip-till, was created.
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