What are the factors that determine the depth and intensity of surface tillage and harrow use?

In 2009, one of the largest dust storms ever seen in Australia occurred.

On a single day in September, a dust plume measuring at least 500 kilometres wide and 1000 kilometres long covered dozens of towns in NSW and Queensland. Thousands of tonnes of dirt was dumped into Sydney Harbour and the Tasman Sea.

Known as Red Dawn, the cause of the storm was an intense north low-pressure system that picked up dust from the dry interior of Australia. Overall, total soil loss from the storm was estimated to be over 2.5 million tonnes.

Top soil a valuable commodity

While in the case of Red Dawn, much of the soil loss wasnโ€™t from agricultural lands, similar storms and even minor weather events can cause soil loss. In fact, itโ€™s estimated that each year around 24 billion tonnes of fertile soil is lost worldwide due to erosion.

While there are many reasons for erosion, what these shocking figures clearly highlight is that farmers around Australia โ€“ and indeed the world โ€“ need to be doing more to reduce erosion. At the same time, they need to maintain and improve the health and fertility of their soils.

Correct surface tillage and harrow use one of the answers

There are many ways that farmers can reduce erosion and one of them is to employ the correct surface tillage program.

Tillage is the practice of mechanically manipulating the soil to manage crop residue, control weeds and pests, minimise soil compaction and prepare soil for seed planting.

Tillage can be very beneficial for the soil, but it can also be harmful if done incorrectly. For example, during the first decades of European settlement and farming in Australia, the same tillage practices that were employed in Europe were used. However, this was too regular, too deep and too intensive for our soil and it led to degradation and erosion.

Shallower tillage practices counteracts these issues. Instead of intense, deep tillage, which can break down the soilโ€™s integrity, surface tillage only disturbs the top layer of soil. This means a protective cover is maintained and water runoff and the loss of valuable topsoil is minimised.

Correct surface tillage and harrow use one of the answers

Not all soils are the same

All this is well and good, but not all soils are the same. Surface tillage and harrow use in rural New South Wales may be too deep and intensive for the soil, while the same aggression is perfect in South Australia (or vice versa).

Some of the factors that determine the depth and intensity of surface tillage and harrow use include:

  • Soil type. Every soil has varying characteristics, such as texture, structure, and compaction levels. Soils with heavier textures such as clay generally require deeper tillage to alleviate compaction and improve drainage. Lighter soils, like sandy soils, may require less intense tillage due to their naturally looser structure.
  • Moisture Content. The moistness of the soil can affect the ease and effectiveness of tillage operations. In general, it is easier to till moist soils as they are more pliable and less prone to compaction. However, excessively wet soils can become compacted if heavy machinery is operated on them. Conversely, excessively dry soils may require more aggressive tillage to break up compacted layers and improve seedbed conditions.
  • Paddock Conditions: Conditions such as slope, existing soil erosion risk, and drainage patterns can influence the depth and intensity of tillage. On sloping fields prone to erosion, conservation practices like contour plowing or terracing may limit the depth of tillage to reduce soil disturbance and maintain soil stability. In poorly drained areas, shallower tillage may be preferred to avoid further compaction or waterlogging.
  • Crop rotation and residue management. The crop rotation system and residue management practices influence the depth and intensity of tillage. In conservation tillage or no-till systems, where crop residues are left on the soil surface, the depth of tillage is usually minimal to avoid excessive disturbance of the residue layer. In contrast, if residues are incorporated into the soil, deeper and more intensive tillage may be necessary to facilitate residue breakdown and seedbed preparation.
  • Farm Management Goals: The aim of the farm can also play a part. For example, maximizing yield, controlling weeds, or conserving soil moisture can influence the depth and intensity of tillage.
  • Equipment and Implements: In an ideal world, a farmer will have available various implements to conduct surface tillage. He or she can then use the equipment that best suits the moisture levels and the condition of his paddocks. In practice, however, the type and size of equipment and implements available will be reduced. Different tools offer varying levels of penetration and soil disturbance. For instance, mouldboard ploughs penetrate deeper and invert soil layers, while disk harrows work closer to the surface and provide lighter tillage.

Bute Discs. Better results.

Wouldnโ€™t it be nice to have one piece of equipment that could practically look after all your surface tillage needs? In all seasons, all soil and paddock conditions and no matter what your aims are?

Well, the solution is here.

Bute Discsโ€™ disc chains come with adjustable weights. Adjustable weights can easily be added or taken off. Thatโ€™s why we say that our disc chains are for every soil and every season.

For example, if your soil is dry and hard, you can add two or three weights to the disc chains. This will allow your shallow tillage system to cut through the heavy topsoil. If youโ€™ve had heavy rains recently, you can remove all the weights for less intensive cultivation. You can even add weights to the different parts of the disc chains for uneven and variable soil.

In total, there are four different chain weights in one system. Just as importantly, the weights can be added while the discs are still connected, meaning less downtime. All you need is one tool and it can all be done in the field.If you want to control the depth and intensity of surface tillage on your farm and want more information about Bute Discs, complete the form on our website or phone us on +61 8 8826 2035 or +61 429 178 741.

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