Crop specialist Emerson Nafziger, University of Illinois, is seeing the results of those purchases as he drives past fields in his home state. He says in the past two years, he has seen more tillage than usual, and attributes it to the wet fall in 2009 that left tire ruts and soil compaction, followed by a wet spring in 2011. Dry soils and good tillage conditions came in the fall of both 2010 and 2011.

According to an Illinois Department of Agriculture survey, the number of tilled acres (including conventional till, reduced till, and mulch till) increased an average of 2% between 2009 and 2011 while no-till acres in the state declined 5%, from a record high of 33.2% in 2006 to the current 24.2%. A recent Farm Industry News survey, conducted with 300 readers throughout the Midwest, showed a similar upswing in use.

Nafziger says there are really only two reasons why farmers should consider traditional tillage. One is to improve soil aeration and break compacted zones in the root zone, where primary (deep) tillage can help. “The other is to improve seed placement, which we normally accomplish with secondary [shallow] tillage,” he says. He suggests doing less of either primary or secondary tillage if conditions that tillage helps correct are not present.

The tools being used most, he says, are big combination tools like heavy disk rippers, which can disk, rip, and level the ground all in one pass. Vertical tillage tools, designed for light, fast, and shallow tillage, are being used as secondary tillage implements in some cases, Nafziger says. “But more traditional implements like field cultivators and disk harrows are now joined by combination ‘soil finishers,’ which can do a very good job of seedbed preparation without making the seedbed finer than it should be,” he says.