Deep-Till: Back to the Future of Plowing

Roy Roberson writes in Farm Press about
Deep tilling of crop land pocked and rutted by heavy equipment used on rain and snow soaked, often frozen farm land may not only clean up the land, but may have a significant positive effect on managing herbicide resistant weeds, especially Palmer pigweed.
Back to the future! “Deep tilling” is the current buzzword for plowing. That’s how my father farmed, with a bottom plow, a subsoiler, a harrow, and a cultivator.

The same article continues to defend no-till:

There is no doubt about the many benefits of minimum or no-till cropping systems. Reduced-tillage saves farmers money in equipment, improves soil quality, improves the environment by making the soil more porous and produces better drainage. The list of benefits goes on and on.
Promotes more erosion, is my observation. And how does no-till save farmers money if they have to pay for increasing amounts of pesticides to try to deal with mutant weeds like pigweed?
Herbicide manufacturing companies have introduced, and in many cases re-introduced a number of pre and post-emergence herbicides that can be used to manage Palmer amaranth.
And farmers still have to pay people to go pull up the weeds.

Or plow:

Timing of tillage operation also is a factor on undoing some of the benefits of long-term no-till. To get better weed, insect and disease control; and to help balance work schedules, many farmers do their tillage work in the fall.

Timely fall tillage, followed by planting a cover crop has shown to significantly reduce the spread of resistant Palmer amaranth — and other herbicide resistant weeds — and cause minimal damage to fields previously in long-term, no till systems.

Basically, no-till is great, except it doesn’t work. Plowing and cover crops work better.
“We’ve seen lately a number of growers who have gone ahead and used deep tillage methods in fields that have been in long-term, no-till systems,” says Jeff Mink, a regional agronomist for Syngenta.

“I understand the benefits of no-till systems and many growers don’t have deep tillage equipment, but having to go in and repair fields damaged by fall rains and winter snows may be a blessing in disguise, if resistant weeds are a problem or even a threat,” Mink adds.

“University research indicates moldboard plowing or deep turning the soil is the most effective way of burying weed seed. Growers will need to work the land, then still need to come back with an aggressive herbicide program to manage weeds, especially pigweed,” he adds.

The benefit, Mink contends, is that instead of having hundreds of thousands of weed seed germinating in a field, the grower will have drastically fewer weeds to kill, which in terms makes herbicide treatment more effective.

Many growers sold their bottom plows a long time ago, and went in hock to the bank to buy expensive spraying equipment. It’s time to reverse that trend.

Of course, that’s not the way the herbicide companies put it:

“By combining deep tillage practices and a standard herbicide program, or even using minimal herbicides that a grower would use in a no-till system, would dramatically reduce the weed population this year. And, it would help keep these numbers down in future years,” Mink says.
Massive chemical warfare on weeds isn’t “standard” and it isn’t “conventional farming”. It’s sales for pesticide companies at the expense of the farmers, and of their health, the health of wildlife, and the health of anybody who lives nearby. It’s a late-twentieth century and early twenty-first century fad whose time has come and gone.

It’s time to get back to the future of the moldboard plow.