Pecker Tracks, While Ugly Translates into More Infiltration and Less Runoff

Dr. Daniel Davidson, Agronomist

Charles Rice, a farmer from Mapleton, Ill. discovered a more efficient way to manage soil when he adopted vertical tillage to process residue, conquer compaction while preparing a good seedbed while being in conservation compliance and staying true to his no-till roots.

Rice, who owns a 15-foot Smart-Till was drawn to this aeration type of vertical tillage when in 1997 he borrowed a Strom drill caddy with rolling tines, similar to those on a Smart Till and ran it over 80 acres. "I was astonished by pecker tracks and how rough it looked, but after a quick 1 inch rain, the water all percolated and there was no erosion and I knew I was on to something unique."

Rice grows corn and soybeans on his farm just west of Peoria. He is a committed conservationalist who continues to test and adopt conservation practices like no-till, buffer strips, grass waterways and cover crops to conserve the soil while improving soil productivity. And retaining all the residue on the soil surface is a critical part of his conservation plans. Yet being a grower, he is not willing to suffer a poor plant stand. "My goal is a good seedbed and getting every seed out of the ground at the same time." Every grower says that but they don’t always achieve it.

Rice runs a no-till fifty-fifty corn-soybean rotation. He has been a no-tiller for a long time and was satisfied with his results until he discovered using the Strom drill caddy that it left all the residue on the surface and then he bought his own Smart Till. "The Smart till accomplishes everything I want to do including use as a finishing tool and it helps me stay in compliance while getting good stands."

He explained that the Smart Till fractures the top 8 inches of soil, improving aeration and water infiltration. "You can help speed up the breakdown of residue by getting a little soil on it, but the Smart-Till still leaves residue mostly on the soil surface to stop wind and water erosion."

Rice has several defined uses for the Smart-Till when he attaches a rotary hoe, rolling harrow or spiral stalk chopper attachments. In the fall he likes to use the rolling harrow on cornstalks in fields going to beans. That throws enough soil on the stalks to get them to decay. On his corn after corn acres he likes to use the rolling spiral stalk chopper to chop up stalks and rootballs. In the spring, he likes to use the rotary hoe attachment to just fluff up the soil and residue so it dries and warms faster. While he has to attach and detach these attachments each has a specific use and benefit that is worth the time.

While early April was ideal and he was anxious to get to the field, the latter half was wet causing delays for Rice and it wasn’t until the first week of May that he was finally able to get to the field using his Smart-Till to prep the soil prior to planting.

Rice is a no-tiller and says the Smart-Till helps him be a more successful no-tiller since he can now handle the residue and doesn’t worry about cool and wet soil conditions.

Rice is finally off and running for the season but will continue to battle periodic wet spells until he gets his fields planted. However running the Smart-Till a half day before planting is just enough to create a small dust cloud when he plants and he is confident that his seed bed conditions are ideal.