Minimum Tillage Wheat

2016 Wheat Crop
2016 Wheat Crop

Many no-till farmers still disk their fields multiple times to drill or scatter wheat seed because that’s the way they have always done it.  Two years ago we bought a big John Deere 1990CCS no-till drill and began drilling wheat after corn without tillage.  The first year we used it was for the 2014 crop which had bad yields of around 50 bushels and terrible disease. The previous year, 2013, we had double turbo-tilled then drilled using an old 10 foot drill to plant 530 acres of wheat that was our best crop ever averaging 85 bushels per acre.  For 2015 we no-tilled some of it and turbo-tilled some. See the harvest map below where there is a turbo-tilled strip in the middle of a no-tilled field.

2015 turbo-tilled test plot
2015 turbo-tilled test plot

The yield difference was a 115 bushel average in the turbo-tilled plot, and 83 bushels per acre in the middle of the field next to it. That’s 32 bushels per acre difference!  With the wheat price at $5.50 in 2015 that meant $176/ac more revenue. And, apples to apples, the whole field got the same fertilizer and nitrogen rate.  I learned a valuable lesson.

The caveat is that my conservation plan at the NRCS office requires a 70% residue covering if I conduct any form of tillage, so I have to make sure I’m not burying too much residue.  My equipment makes that easy with a hydraulic aggressiveness setting from 0% to 6% angle (which actually makes a big difference), so I can assess the job and make quick adjustments throughout the field and between different residue toughness conditions throughout the day. A Great Plains Turbo-Till is different from a disk in that it is vertical tillage, meaning it’s purpose is to make strictly vertical cuts and shallow fractures in the topsoil.  Whereas a disk actually rolls the topsoil over with cup shaped blades and turns the top layer of soil upside down while breaking it into chunks; and disking is usually done two or three times over in the same field to make small chunks or even powder the seed-bed. That’s a recipe for disaster when a big rain comes.

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Adequate corn residue coverage in 2016 wheat field

Carefully selected tillage equipment, the right drill, and good timing can go a long way toward making an excellent wheat crop while conserving the land for the next crop and future generations.