Video Clip: Zone Tillage from Vegetable Farmers and their Sustainable Tillage Practices


Vegetable Farmers and their Sustainable Tillage Practices [DVD]. V. Grubinger. 2007. University of Vermont Extension. Available for purchase at: (verified 31 Dec 2008).

This is a Vegetable Farmers and their Sustainable Tillage Practices video clip.


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Anu Rangarajan, Department of Horticulture, Cornell University. Ithaca, NY.

Audio Text

My name is Anu Rangarajan and I’m in the Department of Horticulture at Cornell and we’re here at the Homer C. Thompson Vegetable Research Farm. We are doing some research here on trying to figure out how to reduce tillage in vegetable production systems for the northeast. So we are focusing on primarily zone tillage systems because we think they are the best for our conditions in the upper northeast where it’s cooler. In zone tillage we’re only disturbing about an 8 inch band of soil across the whole field where we’re going to be planting. You can work that zone fairly shallow in sort of traditional zone tillage which is a 3-4 inch depth using a set of coulters or we can work deep. We’d be wanting to work deep where we have some compaction layers that we want to break up.

This is our zone builder. It is made by Unverferth - there are other types of zone builders made by other companies. This requires 30-50 horsepower per shank, and a tractor with a high clearance hitch. In the front you have a pair of cutting discs that cut through residue in the soil. Following that is this deep tillage shank. This shank is a very hard steel that allows it to travel 12-18 inches deep even in the soil. Behind that it’s followed by hilling disks, these actually hill up the soil and create a mound. That creates a very nice planting zone and then these rolling baskets break up any clods in the soil.

Zone tillage is an improvement over conventional tillage because you are only working a narrow piece of ground. Using an implement like this allows us in one pass to prepare a planting area for a particular crop. We’ve done this with a lot of large seeded vegetable crops including sweet corn and beans and pumpkins which are the most popular vegetables right now to do in zone tillage. We are also exploring transplanted crops including peppers, tomatoes and cabbage. In the future we hope to be able to do this also with root crops and smaller seeded crops. It’s a big advantage over conventional tillage because here you only make one pass - you don’t have to plow or disk. The advantages of that is you conserve fuel, you conserve time, and you enhance soil quality by not inverting the soil.

Here we are demonstrating the zone tiller in a Sudex cover crop, we’ve used it in a killed cover crop as well as a living cover crop, because it’s quite aggressive and can handle that type of residue.

Zone tillage doesn’t require fancy equipment. We started out with this simple tool which involves three wavy coulters that create that shallow zone, mounted on a tool bar, and we have them spaced 30 inches for our crops and the way we plant here.

We make the decision on how deep to run our deep tillage based upon soil compaction. Because that deep shank that you saw, it’s important that that goes just below a compaction zone so it's important to have a penetrometer in the field with you when doing this type of work.

This video project was funded in part by the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (USDA).  

Published June 3, 2011

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