Greg Smith says vertical tillage has worked so well on his perennial grasses and alfalfa, he’s now using it for his grains and oilseed crops to manage residue
Beginning with his meadow fescue fields, forage seed producer Greg Smith began using vertical tillage two years ago to loosen up sod-bound fields and has been pleased with the results — higher yields in second- and even third-year plant stands.
“Meadow fescue throws lots of heads the first year, you get phenomenal yield, but in the second year it has a tendency to really drop off,” Smith said during the Manitoba Forage Seed Association’s summer tour.
“Beyond the second year it gets just about down to nothing, you go from a pretty decent crop of 700, 800 pounds or more and you’ll be down to 150. (Vertical tillage) has improved that.”
Smith first tried other methods of tillage to break up sod-bound roots, but found those implements were bringing up too much soil along the way, he said. But vertical tillage implements are designed to lift the soil and mix it with crop residue without creating a compaction layer.
“We fooled around with the tiller, had narrow points on it, discs, all kinds of stuff, but every time we worked it though, clods and sods came up… you could see it sort of work, but not totally,” said Smith, who farms near Oakbank, but also has fields near Beausejour and Dugald.
He then borrowed a demonstration unit from a local equipment dealer and, pleased with the results, bought his own vertical tillage equipment.
“We’re still playing with it, but it looks like it’s working,” he said.
Smith is now using vertical tillage on all of his perennial grasses as well as his alfalfa to manage residue. He said the system helps deal with trash as well as disturb sod and promote head growth.
Not all crops are vertically tilled at the same time though. Some are better suited to fall tillage, while late-harvested crops like alfalfa are better suited to spring tillage.
“In the spring, it’s kinda like raking your grass, it really wakes things up,” Smith said, adding alfalfa’s need to catch insulating snow in the fall also makes it a better candidate for spring tillage.
Smith, who grows 900 acres of perennial forage crops on his 3,300-acre operation, is also incorporating vertical tillage into other crops, such as canola, wheat and oats.
“We use it on all of our other crops too, just as a management tool to deal with residue,” he said. “Till the field, run over it with a vertical tiller and it does a nice finish job — then the field is ready for seeding the next year.”
He predicted interest in vertical tillage will grow.
“You go to all the work establishing these crops… only to break them out after two years,” said Smith. “Well, if you can get another year out of it or something like that using vertical tillage, we’d like to be able to do that.”