Try out several tools. No two shallow vertical tillage tools are the same, says Curt Weisenbeck, Agronomic Consulting, Durand, Wis. “Each tool behaves differently in different soils and terrain.” For example, independently mounted blades are better for rocky fields or irregular topography. Different types of blades – straight, concave, smooth or fluted – determine how much soil is disturbed. Try out several tools before deciding what’s best for your farm, he says.

Match tool to conservation needs. Some implements sold as shallow vertical tillage tools actually move quite a bit of soil sideways, Weisenbeck says. “If you have steep slopes and are concerned with conservation, choose a tool that disturbs as little soil as possible. On flatter fields, you might be able to use a little more aggressive tool.”

Don’t skimp on horsepower. Shallow vertical tillage tools require about 10 PTO hp/ft. of width. “Don’t buy a tool that’s too big for your tractor,” says Trevor Dybevik of Great Plains, “especially if you farm hills.”

Check with your NRCS office before you switch to find out if it complies with your conservation program. Shallow vertical tillage is classified as mulch tillage, a form of full-width tillage, Weisenbeck says.

Wait for the right soil conditions. As with any tillage operation, shallow vertical tillage when soil is too wet “could put in a compaction layer,” says DeAnn Presley, Kansas State University soil scientist. Conversely, very dry soil conditions make it hard for vertical tillage blades to penetrate the soil, resulting in an uneven tillage zone, says Jodi DeJong-Hughes, University of Minnesota Extension tillage expert.

Run at the correct depth. Shallow vertical tillage tools are designed for working depths of 2-3 in., says Trevor Dybevik, Great Plains Manufacturing. Running deeper than advised “just wastes fuel. Blacker is not better.” And keep in mind that true shallow vertical tillage will not take out weeds or fill in field ruts, Weisenbeck adds.

Watch your speed. If you run a shallow vertical tillage tool too fast, it can float up out of the ground, says Mondovi, Wis., farmer Doug Olson, who’s used the tools for several years. But if you go too slowly, “you don’t get enough action from the coulters.” Most tools are designed to operate at 7-10 mph. “At that speed, it doesn’t take long to cover the ground.”