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Soil & Tillage Types, They matter!

With planting season rolling at full speeds we wanted to take a minute and talk about the different types of soil and the different tillage practices farmers use to prepare their crop land for planting. 

Soil is more diversified than you may think. All soil is not created equal.  We are going to dive into its complexity starting with the different types. Soil is categorized into six different types based on particle type and size that the soil consists of. These types are sand, clay, silt, peat, chalk, and loam. Indiana soil composition is predominantly clay, sand, and loam. 

We will start with the soil composition that we don’t typically see around home which is sand. This type is mainly found in northern Indiana near the sand dunes. Some positives of sandy soil are good drainage and it warms up quickly giving you a longer growing season. Ideally you don’t want to plant into sand. Due to its weak structure and large particles it is prone to compaction by heavy tillage or harvesting, erosion, and runoff. As a result sandy soil has a hard time holding onto nutrients that crops need to grow and become a high yielding commodity. Typically with sand you will either see no-tillage or strip-tillage. 

Loam is referred to as the “black gold” as it is the most ideal soil type you could have. It is a mixture of sand, silt, and clay giving it some of the best characteristics. This soil's water retention is favorable, but still has good drainage. Loam is rich in nutrients which is ideal for crop growth. If you were to pick up a handful of loamy soil it would crumble apart and fall through your fingers, and because of this it is pretty easy to work with in terms of types of tillage you can utilize. 

The last soil type we will talk about is clay. While clay soils aren’t ideal to grow crops in, it is much preferred to sandy soils. Water and air movement are restricted in these soils making it a possibility to lie wet for long periods of time. This can make our wet springs difficult because when the subsoil of clay remains wet, it is unsuitable for plowing. Another downfall if the soil remains wet is compaction. The compaction in clay can be alleviated in dry or frosty conditions from cracking. The big reason clay is preferred over sand is because clay contains high levels of nutrients with proper drainage compared to sand. At the end of the day your crops need those nutrients to grow and turn into that high yielding crop we all want. 

Tillage is another farming practice that most don’t realize has lots of options. Some of these options include conventional till, no-till, strip-till, cultivation, vertical till, and a few others. Although there are lots of options, the four primary types used in the industry are conventional till, vertical till, strip-till, and no-till. 

Conventional tillage is using a plow or disc to completely invert the soil to incorporate the soil residue and break loose any compaction. You will typically see conventional tillage with a disc as plowing is starting to become obsolete. This type of tillage is considered to be the most intrusive form because it increases your chances for nutrient runoff, erosion, etc. Conventional till is usually a multi-step practice which adds to the intrusiveness. However, it loosens up your soil which allows for good air exchange and root growth.

Vertical tillage breaks up crop residue while only penetrating a few inches into the soil. This ensures that the residue sits on top of the soil to decompose and aid in limiting erosion. Vertical tillage reduces compaction while maintaining a uniform soil profile. 

When strip-till is used you are only preparing the seedbed in the soil. The rest of the soil and crop residue remains untouched to help protect incoming crops and the soil. You will often see this in sandy soils as it prepares the seed bed in one pass while maintaining the soil’s biological health. 

Lastly is the least intrusive tillage practice of them all, no-till. No-till is a practice where you grow crops without disturbing the soil at all before planting. This practice helps with limiting erosion and increasing organic matter which makes your soil more fertile. No-till would be considered your most economical form for tillage. 

The tillage practices each operation uses depends on what type of soil they are dealing with and what best works to keep their crops and soil healthy throughout the entire year. With that being said, we have only dipped our toes into the complexity of soil type and tillage practices. Feel free to contact us with any questions you may have! What types do you think operations in our community use most?


Olivia, Tabby, Gina, & Kendra

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