ASK Jeff: The Rodale Institute’s farm manager, Jeff Moyer, answers your hardcore farming questions

What type of tillage equipment do I need for my expanded operation?

Posted August 16, 2005

What Jeff brings to the table

Jeff Moyer, who’s been the farm manager here at the 333-acre Rodale Institute research farm for more than a quarter of a century, receives lots of mail from farmers just like you asking for advice. Jeff’s hands-in-the-dirt experience over the past 26 years has run the gamut from refining the farm's cover cropping and crop rotation systems (including managing 270 acres in a rotation of corn, small grains, hay, and edible soy beans for a Japanese market) to overseeing The Rodale Institue Farming Systems Trial®, the world’s longest running side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional agriculture. We thought it would be fun and informative to share some of these farmer-to-farmer exchanges, and Jeff’s practical wisdom, with our readers … and we’ll be doing it on a regular basis.

Got a question of your own? Send it to Jeff at:

Dear Jeff,

I am trying to make an equipment decision, and I need some guidance. I am expanding my farm from 3 acres to 20 acres. I have a tractor (64 horsepower) and need to purchase some tillage equipment. My question is this: Should I purchase a disc and roller, or should I purchase a tractor mounted rotovator? Are these two methods of tillage comparable? I transplant many crops: tomatoes, eggplant, basil, and flowers. I also direct seed crops such as melons, pumpkins, squash and corn. Your help is greatly appreciated.


Dear Jim,

Here are my thoughts on tillage: If I were to buy one piece of equipment for vegetables, I'd take a long look at a spading machine. It is the most gentle on the soil and does a good job as a one-pass tool for incorporating cover crops. We don't have one here at the institute, but there are times I wish we did. We do use rotovators. I will say that they work fine, but the soil needs to be dry or you run the risk of creating a hard-tillage pan under the tillage zone, and the tilled soil can turn to cement.

The disc and roller you mention are really secondary tillage tools that normally follow some sort of primary tillage such as a moldboard plow or a chisel plow. Moldboard plowing, discing and rolling is a time-proven system that can be hard on the soil but gives you options, not the least of which is a discount on lots of used stuff out on the market.

Like any occupation, the more tools you have in the tool box the better off you'll be. There never is a one best tool for all tasks, although the spader comes close (but not without a high price tag). Whatever system you chose, keep in mind that with tillage less is better. Plow less, rotovate less, or spade less. Do only as much as you need to in order get a good seed bed and manage your weeds.

Good luck with your expanded operation,


Have some questions to Ask Jeff? E-mail him directly at