The decision to till in the fall or spring will be dictated by many factors that are not easy to control. The two main factors for tillage in the fall or spring are soil moisture conditions and soil temperature. These two factors can have significant impact on soil fracturing, tillage depth, clod size and level of soil compaction. Therefore, soil moisture and soil temperature can influence tillage practice, and ultimately yield and soil quality performance.

 

Normally, if there has been no excess rain during harvest, the fall soil moisture profile will be more suitable for tillage and soil fracturing than in spring when soil moisture is most often at field capacity or above. When soil moisture is above field capacity any travel on the field whether combining or tilling soil can cause maximum soil compaction.

 

Tilling soil during spring potentially may: lead to soil compaction, not be very effective in soil fracturing due to high soil moisture, potentially smear soil and create large soil clods. These collectively will be very counter-productive by reducing yield and soil quality. The decision to wait for tillage until spring can carry certain risks due to time constraints, when rain may prevent farmers from entering fields on time.

 

If tillage is necessary, fall tillage is a better option because soil moisture is generally below field capacity; there is less potential for soil compaction; and soil temperature is suitable. When soil temperature drops to the freezing point it is not easy to fracture the soil, because the solid water (ice) in the soil prevents it from breaking into small clods. Delaying tillage can have negative consequences on soil condition and ultimately on yield performance.