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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Vertical Tillage and Soil Conservation

Vertical tillage can be a useful tool in soil management and conservation.  When I started working for Soil Conservation Service in the late 70's we were starting to talk about keeping the soil surface covered to reduce soil erosion.  The Universal Soil loss equation said that reside cover was the primary means to control erosion on cropland.  In those days, conservation tillage methods usually left us with 50% residue or less on the surface.  No-till was the way to go on steeper soils because it was the only way to get 80% residue on the surface after planting.

I remember doing a conservation compliance check on someone who had a plan that called for 60% residue on the surface.  To achieve that level in those days, no-till was the only way to go.  It was obvious that the land had been tilled, but he had the residue cover so he passed.  This ground had been worked with an early vertical tillage tool.

Soil Conservation Service and its successor agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service continued to research soil erosion and found that soil erodability factors were too high, and that crop residue protected even better than original estimates.  That is the good news.  The bad news is that any soil disturbance increased soil loss even with high amounts of residue.  So, if the machinery salesman is telling you that vertical tillage is just as good for your conservation plan as no-till or strip till, take a conservative approach.  Ask NRCS to review your conservation plan and see if you will still be legal.

No-till Farmer publicized this webinar on conservation tillage.  While soils and rainfall may affect your soil loss numbers differently than they do in Kansas, a lot of what is said has applicability everywhere.  It takes about an hour to watch.  

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