No-till soybeans have been very successful and popular for many years across Illinois. In recent years many no-tillers have converted to a modified no-till system with some type of vertical tillage tool. There are numerous tools on the market; some are truly vertical while some are vertical in name only but actually turn the soil. They all size residue, do some shallow incorporation and leave a very smooth, uniform seedbed that tends to dry out faster in the spring. In addition it looks pretty and is usually very nice to plant into. Historically I have not been a promoter of vertical tillage ahead of no-till soybeans. It looks great but I have not seen any scientific studies that indicate a yield benefit. Soybeans do quite well in a true no-till environment and are not negatively impacted by heavy corn residue.
Many of our no-till soybean acres are not in a continuous no-till system because the fields see tillage the years they go to corn. These rotationally tilled fields do not achieve the same amount of residue buildup as a truly continuous no-till field.
If you find your no-till soybean fields are staying too wet in the spring or you are having problems with residue flow through your planter or you just don’t like the deep mulch look on your fields after planting, perhaps some sort of “stalk conditioning” pass in the fall would benefit to you. If you want to try something I offer the following advice… less is more. Your goal is to process the stalks, not till the soil. You don’t need to use the heaviest, most aggressive, least vertical “vertical” tool on the market (I am thinking of a disk here). I also think it’s best to do in the fall then just no-till or plant soybeans into a stale seedbed in the spring.
I love to see the surface of a field covered with crop residue. The benefits crop residue provide in nutrient cycling, water infiltration, erosion protection, moisture conservation, soil cooling and other benefits to soil health and soil quality are well documented. However, it is obvious that high yielding corn and soybean production systems can produce more residue than we decompose in a year’s time. And over time can that result in too much of a good thing? Perhaps… but I do not believe that has been proven from an agronomic or economic standpoint.
Remember your goal is to keep all the residue on the surface while creating a seedbed that will lead to quick and even emergence. Some forms of vertical tillage will process residue just enough to help you achieve that goal.