Farming, like any business, is a constant balancing act – weighing the pros and cons of products, equipment, and processes to improve efficiency and keep everything operating in the black. Implementing a strategic tillage program can provide many benefits. It can be used as mechanical weed control for herbicide-resistant weeds or as part of an organic farming operation. Tillage also encourages preseason weed germination, allowing farmers to spray safely before planting.

Strategic tillage can also improve soil structure and water infiltration, making it a viable option in regions with heavy soil and on fields with poor drainage and soil health. For high-residue crops, tillage further improves soil health by incorporating organic matter into the soil where it breaks down into needed nutrients.

In cooler regions, spring tillage is used to warm and dry soil, allowing farmers to get crops in the fields faster and take advantage of every growing day.

On the other hand, there are several drawbacks to a conventional tillage program. Soil compaction, growing operational costs, and ever-increasing volumes of residue from high-yield crops have left farmers searching for more efficient solutions to keep their operations profitable.

A growing number of farmers are finding success by partnering with implement manufacturers that offer equipment designed to counter conventional tillage drawbacks and achieve perfect seedbed preparation in a single pass.


Today’s farm would be largely unrecognizable to yesterday’s farmer. Equipment size has grown, as has the frequency of use. With increased weight and traffic on fields, compaction has become a major concern for modern farmers. Compacted soil limits crop potential, especially for today’s high-yield varieties.

Shallow tillage easily breaks up surface compaction in a single pass, but for deeper compaction, farmers must use multiple implements and make several passes. Each pass increases subsurface compaction and requires more time and fuel, reducing the overall effectiveness of strategic tillage for deep compaction.

To combat this, implement manufacturers have designed heavy-duty high-speed discs that produce ideal seedbeds in a single pass. This one-pass solution allows farmers to take advantage of strategic tillage benefits while reducing one of its biggest drawbacks for both spring and fall applications.

One-pass tillage implements begin with a rugged design, ready for difficult soils and hard work. For industry-leading working depths that provide the deepest compaction relief, look for high-speed implements with 29-inch serrated, concave discs.

These machines can work up to 8 inches deep, even in applications previously restricted to cultivators.

In addition to disc size, how it’s attached to the machine also affects its ability to combat compaction. Discs that are individually attached using a pre-tensioned spring element, compared to rubber cushions, are able to accurately maintain depth, even in hard soils, and exert optimal pressure to maintain working position and tripping force.

Breaking up the ground is just part of the equation, though. For a high-quality seedbed in a single pass, discs should be equipped with one or more harrows to guide and smooth soil flow. Ideally, an implement would combine two harrows – an impact harrow for intensive mixing and crumbling and a leveling harrow to create a flat surface.

The impact harrow slows soil flow before it reaches the leveling harrow, allowing perfectly leveled seedbeds even with operating speeds up to 10 mph.

With some manufacturers, additional rollers can be attached to high-speed discs to seal in moisture, prevent soil erosion and create firm, seed-ready seedbeds. For this option, look for an implement that can easily accept and distribute the weight of this attachment while still allowing one-pass operation.

There is no way to completely avoid compaction. But with the help of high-speed discs capable of relieving deep compaction in a single pass, more farmers are able to utilize strategic tillage to increase efficiency and crop yields, both important factors for a healthy bottom line.

Growing Operational Costs

The cost of farm implements has grown along with their size. In general, the cost of farming has steadily increased over the years. From machinery and fuel to seed and labor costs, expenses continue to creep up. Like any practice, strategic tillage comes with an associated cost; there is the initial price of equipment, maintenance and repairs, and the annual operational costs.

While there is no way to do away with these expenses completely, one-pass implements significantly reduce these costs.

Again, it starts with design. High-speed discs with a symmetrical disc arrangement are key to successful one-pass tillage. This innovative design produces symmetrical forces on both sides of the high-speed disc, reducing overlap and the need for correction when working with GPS. It also offers precise directional stability, even when driving on slopes.

Within the frame, the middle discs are offset to prevent blockages and clogging. This ensures even cultivation over the full working width.

So, not only are farmers doing more in one pass, they are saving time and money by not having to cover the ground they’ve already worked. Additionally, the symmetrical design eliminates side draft, saving even more fuel.

For worry-free one-pass tillage and optimum ROI, look for an implement that pairs a symmetrical design with heavy-duty construction. Hardened and tempered discs will deliver maximum service life, even in difficult soils. This ensures the implement is tough enough for one-pass tillage and reduces maintenance costs over its lifetime.

High-quality disc bearings are another area where respected manufacturers can save farmers money on maintenance.

Implements with maintenance-free angular ball bearings do not need lubrication or adjustments, saving time and money on routine maintenance.

Specially designed seals can further protect bearings from dust, moisture, coarse dirt and coiling, keeping machinery in the field and out of the shop.

High Volumes of Crop Residue

Changes in farm implements and practices have been driven by changes in crops – specifically high-yield crops. Farmers are able to produce more bushels per acre than at any point previously. But higher yields mean larger volumes of crop residue after harvest. For strategic tillage operations, this can be a blessing and a curse.

The incorporation of organic matter is one of the key benefits of strategic tillage, and with large amounts of residue, farmers have the opportunity to greatly increase soil health and nutrient levels with limited expenditure. Fall tillage is often cited as the first step to a good harvest because it forces crop residue underground where it begins decomposing and releasing nutrients into the soil in time for spring planting.

However, with high volumes of crop residue or weather-related delays that push tillage back to spring, this advantage can be lost. Decomposition takes time. If residue is too large, inconsistently mixed or too close to the surface, valuable time and nutrients are being wasted.

In some cases, farmers must resort to using several implements to adequately chop and incorporate residue from high-yield crops, increasing fuel and labor costs and adding to compaction worries.

Working with heavy-duty high-speed discs that provide deep, homogeneous residue incorporation in one pass ensures optimum decomposition, even when farmers have to wait for spring. Intensive mixing means more soil to organic contact, leading to faster, more even decomposition. Industry-leading working depths add even more time for decomposition before crop roots are established.

Partnering for Profits

Modern farming has come a long way from the practices of our grandparents and great-grandparents. But one thing has remained constant – no one understands the land better than the farmer who works it. Strategic tillage has many advantages – and its disadvantages are easily alleviated with the right equipment – but choosing the practices and implements that will increase efficiency and benefit the bottom line can only be evaluated on an individual basis.

For best results, look for trusted manufacturers with a proven track record of innovative solutions and customer service. Many of these companies have decades or even centuries of experience in the agriculture industry. They know how to build machines that can tackle difficult conditions year after year.

And they know how to support customers with after-market service and genuine replacement parts.

Partnering with an implement manufacturer that designs for unique and evolving operations and offers an individualized approach will result in the best ROI every time – regardless of your tillage approach.

–by Jim Balstad, VP of Sales and Marketing for Lemken USA

For a high-quality seedbed in a single pass, discs should be equipped with one or more harrows to guide and smooth soil flow.

Partnering with an implement manufacturer that designs for unique and evolving operations and offers an individualized approach will result in the best ROI every time – regardless of your tillage approach.