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Vertical Tiller: Cuts Stubble To Create A Consistent Seedbed
- Sep 07, 2017 -

TILLAGE isn’t as straight up and down as you might think, although those expounding the virtues of vertical tillage might tell you otherwise.


Vertical tillage mostly refers to chopping and working stubble trash into the soil and to cut down through shallow hardpan generally with fluted discs mounted vertically to a cultivation bar.

It’s fast and doesn’t create as much soil disturbance as other tillage methods with the idea to work through stubble to overcome weed issues and create a consistent seedbed.

Vertical tillage is different to regular tillage with a field cultivator or mouldboard plough which shears off a layer of topsoil, breaks it up and lays it over the previously cut surface. The issue is that if the soil is wet, it can smear the untilled layer.

“If you scraped away the tilled layer of soil what you would see is a smeared soil surface, like if you had smoothed out the soil with a butter knife,” says Ohio State University Extension agricultural engineer Randall Reeder.

“That smeared surface often creates a physical barrier that impairs root growth and water and air movement, and has a major impact on the soil and crop performance.”

Tine cultivation and deep ripping are the other more dramatic tillage options, while coming back the other way is speed tillage where slightly concave discs aggressively loosen and turn over the soil.

“An agronomist told me some of the speed tillers that have been popular here for a while are causing panning,” says tillage company Great Plains’ US export director Ryan Haffner.

He was in Australia recently to demonstrate the company’s Turbo Max vertical tillage machine as an alternative to speed tillers.

“You can avoid panning with the Turbo Max,” he says. “It is by far our most popular machine in recent times.

“It levels the soil and gives you shallow incorporation of residue creating fissures through which moisture is able to travel in both directions.”

The driver behind the move towards tillage is finding alternatives to chemical weed control and to solve compaction in no-till systems without creating too much soil disturbance.

“We think that how we farm down here in Australia, a lot of no-till, this machine really comes into play,” says Dennis Beedle from Kuhn in the US who visited Australia recently to promote Kuhn’s Excelerator vertical tillage machine.

“We want to be sizing that residue and loosening that seed bed so we can make good, consistent seed placement,” Dennis says.

“In the States, we see more going back to either a strip-till application or more conventional tillage simply because of the hardpan we’ve created with no-till.

“We spend a lot of money for seed today and we want to make sure we get good germination and emergence, so we’re seeing these tools coming back into play.”

The Excelerator has two rows of discs with a longer frame than similar machines with the idea of travelling quickly over stubble to chop it up then incorporate it into the soil while creating an even seedbed.

It has a 32-flute disc which is more than any other — the idea being to create smaller clods and to work more stubble.

“The length of the frame is important because we want to make sure we’re capturing that material and it comes down in front of the tyres so we can resize and capture it again out the back,” Dennis says.

Watching the machine in action in dry stubble, the residue flies up behind the first row before falling in front of the second row where it’s tilled and pushed into the soil with what Kuhn calls a star wheel.

“So we’re capturing that material coming off the back and pinning some of it to create our humus and also to help take out the ridges between the discs for a consistent seedbed.”

A roller at the back is the final step to smooth out the seedbed.

The Turbo Max is similar although with less flutes on its discs and the gang rows closer together. It also has hydraulic blade gang angle adjustment out to six degrees (the Kuhn has five degrees of manual adjustment) for more aggressive tillage.