Crop Tour Takes on Tillage

New multiyear study will measure how different seedbed prep methods affect corn emergence, growth and yield.

By Marilyn Cummins

For its fourth year, the AGCO® Crop Tour program will continue to share best practices that can help improve growers’ corn yields and profits. However, 2019 also marks the start of a multiyear tillage study focusing on what is done to the field before planting.

The research question is: What impact does a grower’s seedbed tillage system have on planting and yield? On-farm trials in Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin will compare the success of seedbeds prepared with a traditional field cultivator or land finisher versus those tilled with short (or high-speed) disks or vertical tillage tools.

“We know that even seedling emergence is critically important, and we’ve been studying and reporting the key things we need to do with the planter,” says Darren Goebel, director of AGCO Global Agronomy and Farm Solutions. “Now let’s step back and make sure that we’re doing everything that we can, as correctly as possible, at the tillage pass to create the optimum seedbed.”

Goebel says the Crop Tour teams have set up side-by-side strip trials across different regions, cropping systems and soil types during spring seedbed preparation. The first crucial measurements are being made with commercially available sensors in the furrow as the corn is planted.

“We’re running planters equipped with Precision Planting® technology, including the new SmartFirmer®,” he says. “We’re taking every reading we can, but the three main things that I’m interested in are the SmartFirmer measurements of soil temperature, soil moisture and residue in the furrow. Is there a difference? And if yes, how did the different tillage passes impact the planter and subsequent corn crop?”

Goebel says residue on the soil surface has a big impact on soil temperature, which greatly affects corn growth and development. In addition, “Precision Planting research has documented that residue in the furrow is a real negative for yield. So, we need to understand which tillage combination is going to do the best job of both minimizing residue in the furrow and managing surface residue.”

Soon after each plot is planted, field specialists run checks to estimate percent residue on the soil surface. As the crop grows, they’ll dig, examine and photograph roots, plus measure and track crop height, as in-season indicators of how soil compaction and other factors are affecting root health and development. Visitors to Crop Tour events can see this process, while also looking at what’s happening underground in pits dug to show the soil profiles. Yield comparisons will tell the final story.

“We’re here to learn together with growers throughout the Midwest,” says Goebel. “We want to make sure that farmers are going to be as profitable and successful as possible, and understanding how our tillage tools can prepare for the planter pass will shed light on another really key component of yield.”