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Equipment Hub: Preparing for spring tillage

Justin Render for Progressive Dairy Published on 31 March 2020

Spring tillage offers a number of benefits to help get the planting season off to a successful start. Given the narrow planting window, proper preparation and maintenance of your tillage equipment is essential to making sure it is field ready and will function correctly.

The first consideration should be: What are your tillage goals or objectives, based on your farming operation? Spring tillage is one tool in your toolbox that might be used for any of the following:



  • Drying poorly drained soils
  • Incorporating an herbicide or fertilizer application
  • Warming and drying wetter soils
  • Incorporating lodged crops that were not taken care of in the fall
  • Taking out weeds
  • Fixing ruts or pre-plant field preparation
  • Terminating cover crops

Secondly, determine what type of tillage will best meet your needs. There are three major tillage segments, including:

Conventional horizontal tillage: These machines pull a sweep, shank or disc through soil horizontally. Examples include a soil finisher, field cultivator, disc or chisel.

Vertical tillage: This equipment uses blades/chopping knives and rolling points that enter and exit the ground vertically. The true test of vertical tillage is that nothing is pulled through the soil horizontally.

Hybrid horizontal tillage: This emerging tillage segment combines some of the benefits of conventional tillage, vertical tillage and soil finishing products into one machine. Two rows of somewhat concave blades fracture, lift and pass soil to the back and side. Hybrid horizontal tillage equipment utilizes high speeds to perform the action without creating a smear or stratification layer, like horizontal machines, and then mixes the soil and residue together.

Tillage tune-up

All three types of tillage equipment have basically the same maintenance inspections or checks before you go to the field. Taking care of this work as early as possible prior to the planting season will help ensure your dealer has any needed parts in stock.


  • Check all ground-engaging parts for damage as well as dull or worn parts. Replace per manufacturer recommendations. If blades, sweeps and points are worn past the manufacturer recommendations, the machine will not perform as designed and will negatively affect performance. This includes but is not limited to proper depth and width of ground engagement.

  • Check shank, gang or torsion/spring systems for wear or damage. If spring/torsion systems are worn or broken, the shank, gang and disc will not be able to get to the proper depth, affecting residue flow, sizing and finish.

  •  Check all bearing interface areas. Make sure they spin freely without grinding, slop or wobble. If the blade or shaft does not have the ability to spin freely, the machine has a higher chance of plugging or the finish being negatively affected.
  • Check finishing attachments, noting damage or any needing repairs or maintenance.

  • Check frame and hitch for cracks, damage or wear. Any structural issues should be corrected, broken hardware should be replaced, etc., to eliminate any potential safety concerns or further damage.

  • Check hydraulic systems for proper operation, leaks and hose fatigue. As with most things, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. A hose that leaks or blows out will typically cost more because now we need to also add hydraulic oil to the tractor as well as fix the issue, normally adding more cost and time to the breakdown.

Just as important as proper equipment maintenance is making sure field conditions are conducive for tillage. Caution is necessary when using tillage to dry the soil’s surface because excessive moisture can result in compacted subsurface soil layers. It can be tempting to jump the gun and not wait long enough for the soil to dry.

The greatest probability for causing soil compaction takes place a couple of days before the soil is dry. Mahdi Al-Kaisi, Iowa State University Extension soil management specialist, has a few easy checks to help you determine if it is dry enough:

  • Be careful not to enter the field if the drainage tiles are still running, which means the soil moisture is above field capacity.

  • Inspect the field and make sure soil moisture is at or below field capacity by the simple test of taking a handful of soil and squeezing it in your palm; if you notice a trace of moisture on your palm, it is too wet.

Determining your tillage objectives, understanding which tillage method is the best fit for your farm and performing proper equipment maintenance are all important steps to help maximize the benefits of spring tillage.  end mark

Justin is a marketing specialist for Kinze