With harvest proceeding quickly this fall, agricultural producers have had time to consider performing some fall tillage. Since the preceding two fall harvests were fairly wet, many producers might be considering deep tillage to alleviate compaction, said DeAnn Presley, K-State Research and Extension soil management specialist.

Whether deep tillage will prove beneficial depends on soil conditions, she said.

“In research studies, it is commonly concluded that deep tillage is only beneficial if the zone of compaction is truly root limiting. If it isn’t, deep tillage probably won’t be of much benefit,” Presley said.

The only way to know if compaction limits root growth is to leave about three to five untilled strips through the field and then compare yields in those areas to the tilled parts of the field next year, she explained.

If tillage is performed when the soil is too wet, the zone of compaction could be moved even deeper.

“To know if the soil is too wet for tillage, try to make a ribbon out of the soil without wetting it. If you can make a texture ribbon, it is too wet. Alternatively, if you can roll out a ‘snake’ of soil by rubbing it between your palms, it’s too wet,” Presley said.

This is called plasticity and if the soil is plastic, or bendable, it can smear and compact easily. Producers will need to test this to the entire depth they want to till, she said.