John Deere’s Sikora says the tillage tools built today are much more focused on minimizing the impact on the soil in comparison to tools designed a generation ago. For example, he says, a whole new generation of primary disks allow for increased working depths and have improved finishing attachments to better anchor the residue, improve its breakdown, and prepare a much more uniform seedbed.

Sikora says the disks themselves are heavier to better size and incorporate difficult residue. The units are more stable to allow for faster speeds and have wider working widths with more finishing attachments. Because the units can do multiple jobs at once, farmers end up making fewer passes, he says.

“Just because we’re seeing a transition back to more tillage doesn’t mean you’re seeing more passes,” Sikora says. “The new solutions are making the whole tillage system more efficient.”

Vertical tillage, a form of mulch tillage, is a relatively new option for no-tillers to address the residue problem yet still leave as much residue as possible on top to prevent erosion. The units consist of offset rows of ultra-shallow, hybrid disc blades that slice cornstalks at speeds up to 12 mph. 

A similar concept is high-speed compact disks. Horsch Anderson brought several of these units from Europe in 2009 and is now offering full domestic production. Other companies sell them, too. Horsch Anderson’s unit, called the Joker, consists of 20-in. notched discs that chop long straws and mulch the residue. Steel rings, which act as the finishing system, roll over the top of the mulched ground and firm it in the soil without creating compacted soil layers associated with other tillage methods, says marketing manager Jeremy Hughes. 

“It’s proven technology from Europe that we now are manufacturing here,” he says. “The discs rotate faster than traditional discs, allowing the whole unit to work at speeds from 8 to 12 miles per hour.”