It’s been said that tillage is a mindful disturbance of the soil. Farmers are very aware of this mindful disturbance as they determine what tillage options work for their farming operation to help them become more efficient in producing healthy crops with less inputs. The University of Minnesota Extension’s Tillage, Technology & Residue Field Day Sept. 10 was an opportunity for them to learn about technologies and tillage equipment options available to help manage and maintain healthy soils.
Approximately 160 farmers spent the day rotating between five different stations. On the soil conservation side of the tillage and technology discussion, Jodi DeJong-Hughes, University of Minnesota Extension, and Aaron Daigh, North Dakota State University (NDSU), tag-teamed in sharing research about the effects of tillage on yields, soil moisture and soil temperatures.
“We have some of the best soils in the world,” DeJong-Hughes said. “In Minnesota here, we have soils with really high organic matter.”
She went on to discuss soil and soil organic matter loss from erosion, especially wind erosion after winters with a lack of snow cover. At the end of this winter, she sampled soil from five different ditches and found anywhere from two tons to 34 tons of soil collected in the ditches, which included from 1,500-8,200 hundred soybean cyst nematode eggs, soil organic matter from topsoil and $50 per acre worth of NPK.
“It’s your best soil, it’s your money, let’s keep it in the field,” DeJong-Hughes said. “And just by keeping a little bit of residue we can do that. And that’s why I like strip till. I know it is not for everybody, but it is a really nice marriage of full tillage and no-till.”
She and Aaron went on to explain the benefits of strip-till in a rotation and the balance of maintaining topsoil and creating organic matter. They then tied the benefits of soil temperature and moisture in different tillage situations to yields.
Abbey Wick of NDSU also spoke at a station about how farmers can continue to build soil health in order to maximize water infiltration, bulk density, crop productivity and ultimately yield.
“We hear about all this different soil test rankings,” Wick said. “But I’m not sure anything really replaces the shovel and what you feel in your hands, as far as determining if your soil is healthy. I think those tests can be helpful, but the first step really is to take a shovel out into your fields and take a look.”
Wick said the more compacted the soil it, the harder it is for those roots to get through and really branch out and collect all the nutrients as possible. That’s where cover crops come in. She recommends that along with experimenting with different tillage options, farmers take a look at trying cover crops. Wick told farmers that it is best to experiment with what cover crop or cover crop mixes work best for their soil, situations and crop rotation to help bring back soil aggregates and enhance water infiltration.
Farmers also rotated to stations covering new tillage technology, planter set-up for moderate residue levels and residue management before planting. New and existing technologies were a topic of conversation in how to improve efficiency of tillage, creating a planter set-up that can handle higher residue levels for years while improving seed placement and how residue in different tillage situations has an effect on soybean, corn and wheat yields.
To wrap up the event, farmers enjoyed a field demonstration of 11 different tillage implements from various companies and manufacturers that gave a real-world look at vertical till, strip till and chisel plow options for their residue management.
The Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council was an integral sponsor of this event, held in Morris Minn., in a field near the UMN West Central Research and Outreach Center.