With so much tillage done last fall in conjunction with good overall field conditions, many producers are asking how much tillage is really needed this spring.
While many producers are doing spring tillage as usual, others are thinking that this may be the year to do less, says Emerson Nafziger, University of Illinois Extension agronomist. Nafziger said there are two fundamental reasons to till (or not till).
"First, we need to be able to place seed well, at uniform depth and with good seed-to-soil contact," he notes. "We may not need tillage to accomplish this. Where we do need tillage, we should create good conditions for the seed while keeping moist soil formed around the seed."
The other reason to consider tillage is to create a favorable place for roots to grow.
"This means having no distinctive physical barrier, such as soil compacted by previous operations," Nafziger explains. "It also means having good soil-to-soil connections with the deeper soil in order to keep water moving to the surface as the plant starts to take up water."
Deep ripping when soils are dry enough, and not driving on soils when they're still wet, can do a great deal to help create these conditions. But no-till can also help to preserve these conditions when they exist, he adds.
Some producers might want to consider "stale seedbed" planting this spring – planting into soil tilled last fall without any additional tillage. This can help preserve soil moisture while eliminating the time and cost to do more tillage in the spring.
"Fall tillage tends to reduce the number and size of winter annual weeds, so burndown plus residual herbicides should be effective in stale-seedbed plantings," he says. "Planters may need to be adjusted to keep from planting seeds too deep. While we haven't done or seen enough stale seedbed planting to recommend it, the unusually good seedbed conditions this spring may make it worth trying, at least in a field or in some strips."