Agronomy Blog

Tillage: Fall vs. Spring

by Cody Kerr | Nov 7, 2015

The time has come across much of the country where harvest is wrapping up and many farmers are considering, or already doing, fall tillage. This blog will address considerations to take into account before performing a tillage operation, as well as the differences between fall and spring tillage.

Considerations for tillage:
     Soil condition and management practices are the two main things to think about when considering a tillage operation regardless of the time of year. Soil conditions can include drainage, slope, organic matter and soil texture. These factors all contribute to the effectiveness of a tillage operation and should be considered before making a decision.  By performing a tillage operation under the correct soil conditions you can insure that soil quality is preserved and that you achieve the optimum soil productivity.
     Management practices are also very important when choosing whether or not to perform a tillage operation. Did you just have a 200+ bushel corn crop with a high degree of residue left behind that needs distributed? What type of crop rotation do you have? What is the drainage like? What is your planned fertilizer program? All these questions are factors that can influence the effectiveness, or need, for a tillage operation.

Fall Tillage vs. Spring Tillage:
There are several factors to consider when deciding between fall and spring tillage operations. The two most important factors are soil moisture and soil temperature.

  • Fall tillage works well if we are fortunate enough to have a relatively dry harvest, fall can end up being the best time for tillage. Many times during spring the soil moisture profile is much higher and often times near field capacity. By performing a tillage operation during the fall, in a drier year, the soil moisture capacity will be lower, allowing for better soil fracturing and less compaction potential.
  • Spring tillage, while still popular and of good value, can be a little trickier. Several issues can arise during a spring that does not provide the right conditions and or the right amount of time to get tillage completed. Early spring rains can make the compaction potential of a tillage operation increase substantially, as well as lead to large clods due to decreased soil fracturing.

Tillage is an important tool that requires management to achieve the optimum results. By using proper management practices, under the right soil conditions, tillage can prove very beneficial to soil quality and soil productivity.