After we have finished harvest, planting new crops, spraying, and irrigation, there is one last set of field work that has to be completed before we can officially say we are done with tractor work for the year. Every 4-5 years we tear out grass seed fields and prep them to be planted the following winter/spring into grain. There are three different processes we use to tear out grass fields on our farm, which are: rototilling, plowing and subsoiling. Keep reading below to learn a little more about each process and why we do it.
Before rototilling can happen, the fields are first irrigated well to make the dead grass come back green and new from the previous harvest. Once they come back in, they are sprayed to kill off the grass. Once the fields have died, a tractor pulls an implement behind it that is called a rototiller. The rototiller goes into the ground and chops the grass up into chunks. The tractor reaches a maximum speed of around 1.5 mph and the rototiller is less than 10 feet across…with the tractor and driver putting in long, full days, a 40 acre field can take several days to complete. Once the field is finished, sometimes we opt to rototill it a second time, overlapping the passes, to really break up the ground. When rototilling is complete, the fields rest for a couple weeks before they are plowed to let the grass die off more and to let any remaining grass sprout.
After the field has rested, plowing begins. The plow essentially takes everything that is on top of the soil and flips and turns it back into the ground. Another way to think of this is like you are folding/incorporating something into a batter when you are baking. The plow digs into the ground, leaving a ditch as it makes each pass. the driver carefully drives in the trench from the last pass to make sure the paths overlap and nothing has been missed. The trench is only about 15 inches deep, which is about the depth the plow is going into the ground. The plow our farm uses is a fairly narrow farming implement so with each pass, not a lot is gained. Fortunately, the driver can go around 6 mph, as compared to the 1.5 mph you drive while rototilling. Once plowing is finished, subsoiling can immediately begin.
Lastly, the fields are subsoiled. The tractor pulls an implement behind it with long shanks that dig into the soil and break up the clumps from rototilling and plowing. This creates a looser soil that is easier to work and also absorbs water more easily. Although the shanks look large and long, they only go into the ground about 18 inches, which is still deep for our soil. Our farm does not implement no till practices mainly for the reason that our soils are so shallow as compared to elsewhere. In the majority of our fields, you can only go approximately two feet deep before hitting a hard, rocky layer. If we did not rototill, plow and subsoil our fields every 4-5 years, the ground and soil would become very compact and not absorb water as easily. You could compare it to a board of wood trying to absorb water as compared to a sponge absorbing water.
Today we are making our final passes with the subsoiler and then will be ready to slow it down for the rest of the year, taking some needed rest and relaxation time before grain planting begins!