Are you farming vertically? That’s a question Illinois-based agronomist Ken Ferrie believes every grower needs to ask when making soil and field management decisions.
At the CropSmart 2019 conference held earlier this year at Kitchener, Ont., Ferrie, who operates Crop-Tech consulting, explained that vertical farming refers to the ability for water to move up and down through the soil. Quite simply, water must have the ability to travel down through the soil profile, and up from the water table below, to reach plant roots. Getting oxygen into the soil and promoting deep root systems are also key aspects of vertical farming.
“There are a lot of ways to farm in a vertical format,” says Ferrie. “If we can get there it tends to take away a dry July and August or a poor start.” Unfortunately, however, farmers often run into horizontal problems in their fields — soil bulk density challenges such as plough pans and other compaction layers, often resulting from tillage and field travel.
Ferrie says growers can probe from above ground to detect horizontal layers, but he believes it’s best to investigate these problems in the middle of the crop year when root structures and soil moisture movement and infiltration can highlight horizontal layers.
In this interview with RealAgriculture’s Bernard Tobin, Ferrie offers tips on how growers can create vertical environments — sometimes equipment, including vertical tillage and soil rippers, is required depending on the depth of the obstruction. In some cases, he touts cover crops and their ability to push vertically through the soil.
Ferrie also offers advice on how to manage tracks and ruts left over from last year’s harvest. If the field will be planted to soybeans, a good drill or no-till planter can get through the tracks and deliver strong seed establishment. If you’re dealing with ruts — three to five inches deep — you’ll probably need some tillage, says Ferrie.