“We got nearly 11 bushels per acre more wheat just by breaking the hardpan, and in our area of North Carolina, this is a significant improvement and it illustrates a production practice that can be a huge benefit,” Love says.

“Most growers using no-till systems don’t think about the impact of a hardpan from year to year, and I think it is affecting yields more than we realize,” she adds.

In the North Carolina tests, using a chisel plow on six dollar a bushel wheat added $15 per acre benefit. The 40-inch center DMI produced a $40 per acre benefit and the 20-inch center DMI produced a $45 per acre benefit, Love says.

The extra cost of each operation was calculated into the equation, and it was cut and dry, she says. Labor, the cost for adding the tillage points on the DMI, and fuel costs, she explains. “To me, the cost and effort involved in running the DMI to get a return of $45 per acre is huge,” Love adds.

North Carolina, along with other states in the Upper Southeast harvested a big wheat crop this year.Wheat yield in North Carolina is estimated at 58 bushels per acre, down 10 bushels per acre from last year’s record yield.

Harvested acres in North Carolina topped 770,000. Both acreage and total production at 44.7 million bushels are all-time state records.   

As wheat acreage grows, it is highly likely that more and more will be planted on marginal land with relatively low yield expectations.

By comparison, North Carolina’s corn crop was about 900,000 acres, but the increase from 2011 was only about 3 percent. Clearly there is a lot more land available for increasing wheat acreage in the future that is closer in quality to the land used in Love’s test, than there is in soils with high yield potential.

The cost of vertical tillage varies depending on the type equipment used. While 30 foot or wider vertical tillage tools require high horsepower to pull them at such high speeds, most growers already have larger tractors available and can achieve work-rates of 200 acres per day or more.

Growers have also found the fuel use per acre is very low compared to other deeper tillage tools.

Vertical tillage is new enough in the Southeast that many growers are finding it tough to get a handle on exactly what it is.

The most commonly accepted explanation of vertical tillage seems to be: A set of wavy discs and/or rotating spikes on a frame, which enter the soil vertically to a shallow depth. Such passes are usually made to help level the soil surface, enhance planter/drill opener performance and improve seed placement.