Northeast Zone Tillage Project

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2009: $9,897.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Pail Boivin
Vermont Golden Harvest Biofuels


  • Agronomic: corn


  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Energy: bioenergy and biofuels, energy use
  • Farm Business Management: agricultural finance
  • Soil Management: general soil management

    Proposal summary:

    Current issue

    The attributes of heavy clay soils in the northeastern states limits the potential for no-till practices. Clay soils are slow to warm in the spring. In addition they become cmpacted easily andhence are generally more prone to run-off erosion. There is hardly a "good time" to manage clay soils. Clay soils generally produce lower yielding crops due to compaction and poor drainage. This puts farmers in the region at quite an economic disadvantage since they cannot reap the environmental and economic benefits of no-till. Current conventional tillage methodes generally require a minimum of three passes over the filed to plan [one to moldboard or chisel plow once to harrow and once to plant] and more often than not as much as four or more trips depending on soil conditions. All this while leaving the ground surface exposed to the elements which only leads to more possibilities of erosion, drying out, break down of soil structure, and nutrient run off.

    The goal of this project is to research a reduced tillage tool that could improve the economic and environmental sustainability of farmers in the Northeast. More specifically, we plan to evaluate the practice of zone tillage using a strip tillage implement know as an Unverferth Zone Builder in conjunction with a guidance system on heavy clay soils in Vermont

    Project objectives from proposal:

    We will have three test fields that differ in management and each being approximately twenty acres in size. The test sites willbe split into two plots, one plot serving as a control (standard conventional tillage) and the other plot as the strip tilled treatment. The strip tilled treatment will be implemented using a new Univerferth Zone Builder which is built to create a deep tilled loosened seed bed. It is a subsoiler and strip tillage implement in one machine. The following are the four phases of the system:

    1. In the front it has discs that cut the sod or residue.

    2. The 22 inch deep rippers subsoil and break up the hard pan.

    3. The 2 fluted coulters, set 10 inches apart, work to crown and till the soil into a 10 inch strip.

    4. Rolling baskets, with aggressive bars, level, loosen and break up any lumps.

    The guidance system in conjunction with the Zone Builder improves the efficiency of crop production by steering the tractor and implement then recording the data during tillage for use when planting so as to plant in the tilled strops with an accuracy of within 1 to 2 inches by means of GPS as well as its own beacon set within a one half milke radius of the field. All field data including soil type from tillage to planting and even during harvest with the right combine which we don't have at this time.

    The management at the various tests sites is as follows:

    Test site 1: We intend to compare yields of corn grown in a conventionally tilled sod with strip tillage in the same field. Sod will be killed with a glyphosate application (1 qt/acre) applied one week prior to conventional tillage or strip tillage treatments.

    Test site 2: This next comparison will be to compare yields of corn grown on former soybean ground usin our regular practice of reduced tillage compared with strip tillage. Our regular practice of minimum tillage includes spring harrow (2 or 3 times), field cultivate or pulvimulch as needed and plant.

    Test site 3: The next comparison will evaluate corn yields on former soybean ground that was fall subsoiled. The field will be split and the treatments will be our regular practice of minimum tillage compared to strip tillage.

    All test sites will receive starter fertilizer (163 lbs. per acre of 28.5 - 26 - 0), N sidedress (100 lbs N per acre), and rootworm control. Glyphosate resistant hybrid corn will be planted at 28,000 plants to the acre. Harvest will be done with our own gleaner L3 combine in the fall for grain or forage chopper for silage. The harvest type will be determined by the weather conditions.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.