Vertical tillage implements like this one move soil upward and smooth fields. Some forage producers are using them to level pastures and hayfields.
The busy season is upon many of us. Hay mowers all across the country are firing up and heading to the field. In some regions, the mower is then followed by one or more passes with a tedder or “fluffer.” Next comes at least one pass with a rake, then the baler hits the field. Finally, all of the bales need to be removed so the next crop can get a good start and the sprayers with fertilizer and/or herbicide make a pass before this field can get a breather from all of the wheel traffic.

I don’t need to educate you on the process of making hay. I explained the process to bring up something most of you already know: Hay producers make more trips across their field than any other farmer. Here in the Southeast, it can be as many as six to seven passes if you count the spraying and fertilizing trips.

If you are like me, you know where every bump, hole, or washout is in each field. Until recent years, we as hay farmers have not had many options on our permanent grass fields to level them once the seed or sprigs go in the ground. About the best we could hope for is an aggressive aerator with a drag behind it to go over the bad spots a few times.

Over the past several years, multiple manufacturers have entered the vertical tillage market. These units have been around since the mid-1990s but didn’t become widely accepted and used until the late 2000s. Now, every manufacturer has some sort of vertical tillage unit. Each has done a good job of trying to bring a little something different to the marketplace.

Vertical tillage breaks up surface soil compaction or smooths out areas in a field. Soil disturbance is confined to soil movement mostly in an upward direction. It sizes and incorporates residue and manure without creating a stratification layer.

Some vertical tillage units use wavy coulters and run with not much angle; these are primarily used for sizing residue and in seedbed preparation. Others use regular disks with less concavity and are closer to the angle that normal tandem disks use, 12 to 16 degree setting on the disk gangs. Now some manufacturers even have adjustable gangs on the vertical tools that make them even more versatile.

These new versatile vertical tillage units are the answer we have been waiting for to fix those ruts, washouts, and holes in pastures and hayfields. The perennial grass species and soil type will determine which unit might work best. We have some of our customers running a more aggressive unit in sandy soils and others running a medium gang angle on soils with more clay content.

Our customers usually run it over the field in two different directions followed by a roller or cultipacker. Often, the field is as smooth as a new seeding, and the grass even comes back more invigorated from the loosened soils, improved aeration, and moisture absorption. These vertical units can also incorporate your potash and phosphorus fertilizer if needed.

Do a little research on your own, and you will find a number of different models available. Conversely, a row-crop neighbor might have one in his shed that would be available for rent. Renovate pastures or hayfields when the conditions are favorable in terms of moisture and when the crop is growing. It could also be a last pass over the fields before winter freeze-up. Regardless of timing, your equipment and your back will thank you in the long run. Happy haying!

This article appeared in the April/May 2017 issue of Hay & Forage Grower on page 35.

Not a subscriber? Click to get the print magazine.