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Strip-Tillage Crop Management Part I

With high diesel fuel prices and a
desire to protect rivers and lakes from agricultural fertilizers and sediment
runoff, farmers and landowners are looking for new ways to conserve soil
and nutrients, while reducing their fuel and related operating costs. Improvements in planter equipment and herbicides make no-till crop management a good choice in
many fields throughout the state. Long-term no-till crop management,
effectively reduces soil erosion, restores soil structure and improves
water infiltration. But heavy Des Moines lobe soils, typical
of north-central Iowa and southern Minnesota farm land, tend to have poor
internal drainage and can be slow to warm in spring. In those soils, no-till
crop management is less successful. Strip tillage crop management is a good
alternative. A strip till system offers a compromise between the benefits of
traditional full width tillage and no- till. Strip tillage shouldn’t be seen as
a substitute for no-till on highly erodible land, where the tilled strips
are subject to water erosion. This is especially true if the farmer
strip-tills up and down field slopes rather than following a contour.
Innovative, successful Iowa learning Farms farmer partners, like Tom Wagner of O’Brien County, Arlo VanDiest of Hamilton County and father-son farming
partners, Gary and Dave Nelson of Webster County are all enjoying the benefits of
strip-till crop management. Throughout this video, we will hear about the
advantages that they have found in adapting their farms to strip tillage.
SOIL CONSERVATION: Conservation wise I think strip-till
really works for us in this fairly level ground. Even on a sandy hill, we
lose some erosion but it’s just in that five inch slot and in the other 30
inches it’s still sitting there. The biggest payback is the soil savings. You know, long-term we’re keeping
the soil in place a lot better. REDUCED FUEL USAGE AND LABOR REQUIREMENTS: Finally when diesel fuel went to four
dollars, I go I’m ready and looked at it and gone into it full time. We’ve
completed our third year of everything strip till. We like the fuel savings, we
like the time savings in the spring, everything really fits well under
We’ll put our fertilizer in the strip. We variable rate P, variable rate K
individually on our strip-till machine and then we also apply in anhydrous ammonia in that strip as well. IMPROVED IN-FIELD SOIL STRUCTURE AND WATER FILTRATION: In the olden days, fall plowing used to
be such a nice seed bed and so soft and every time you work it, it just goes downhill after that. So our
seed beds right now, we did them all last fall all of our strips,
and they’re so mellow in the spring without touching them. I was at a seed
corn meeting this morning and we’re in a dry drought area here, and boy they were
really preaching on you know, don’t work your ground very much this spring and I’m going I’m not working mine at all. You know I’m ready, just pull out
and plant. Before we were full tillage with chop our corn stalks and run our V-Ripper and then field cultivate twice and field cultivating twice you you get kind of lumpy and stuff, but this
is so smooth. Each of these farmers uses a slightly different approach to implement
strip till. You will see that strip till management can be as simple as creating the tilled strips for seed bed preparation or as detailed as merging
seed bed preparation and fertilizer nutrient application into a single field
operation. Strip tillage implements create an narrow residue-free mounted
strip or berm of soil about six inches wide, four to eight inches deep and three
to four inches high on 30 inch crop row centers. The soil surface between till
strips is left undisturbed, as in no-till, while the area where the crop is to be
planted is tilled. Strip tillage is intended to create an environment
favorable for rapid corn seed germination and seedling growth in early
spring. The strip till operation can be
completed after harvest in the fall or in early spring before planting. The
tilled soil strips with less surface residue are dark, so excess moisture
dries and the soil is quicker to warm for timely spring corn planting. We’ve
been able to, a lot of times people say well man if it’s wet in the spring, I’m
not gonna be able to get out there and plant. On some of those wet Springs we’ve actually been out there sooner than our neighbor, because they’re waiting to go
out there and mud a field cultivator through to dry out that top two inches.
Well when you’re drying out with a field cultivator the top two inches, you may be drying out that top two inches but you’re creating that smear layer. With the soil structure that
we’ve built, we’re building a seed bed that’s filtrating that water, we’re driving on the old residue that’s
almost holding the tractor up in a sense. Adoption of strip-till practices will
require new equipment. Specific components of a strip tillage implement
vary. The basic configuration includes Coulter’s, disks, a subsurface shank or
mole knife to inject fertilizer at depth within the tilled strip and covering disks.
Farmers considering strip tillage may opt to use strip tillage for seed bed
preparation only or to simultaneously subsurface supply nitrogen, phosphorus
and potassium fertilizers in the bottom of the tilled strip. Farmers considering
strip tillage should evaluate the costs and benefits to arrive at the solution
that best fits their farming operation. What we did was we took Iowa State
custom rates and we figured out what it costs us to put in our crop and then we
did it the way we used to do it and we’re saying like $26 an acre and that’s true
figures. Everybody’s costs are different because of their age of their machinery
and stuff, so we just used custom rate guides and what we’re saving and time. That’s like in the spring, the first
spring we did it, there was two nights I came in for
supper and my wife looked at me and goes well what are you doing here. And I go, there’s nothing to do the planters full
and my son’s running it so I went home for supper. You know where before you’d
just work like crazy long hours to stay ahead of the planter with the field cultivator. Some farmers that have adopted strip till continue to broadcast apply their
dry phosphorus and potassium fertilizer, and follow up with the strip till
operation. This approach incorporates dry
fertilizer into the tilled soil strips, where it is readily available to young
crop seedlings. Many farmers apply anhydrous ammonia fertilizer as part of
their fall strip till operation. It’s important to balance completion of
strip tillage following harvest, with the need to delay fall application of
anhydrous ammonia fertilizer until soil temperatures stabilize below 50 degrees
Fahrenheit. As with any tillage operation it’s
important to avoid field operation when soil conditions are too wet, as short-term soil clods and longer-term
soil compaction can result. Ask a neighbor with strip tillage
experience to custom strip till a portion of one of your fields to demonstrate how
to set up and adjust the equipment before investing in your own. Get with
somebody that you like of their strip till program, that you’ve probably been
watching for a couple years, implement it on part of your field. Let your land owners kind of see what
you’re doing, because that’s important, because they got to approve of what
you’re doing on their acres. Cecause sometimes it may look a little bit
trashier, it’s gonna look a little bit different than all the other fields in
the area. But that trashy look, that’s residue, that’s organic matter, that’s breaking down organic matter
versus just burying it, making it black, I mean so there’s many benefits there.
Newcomers will quickly recognize the importance of proper equipment setup and monitoring and must be willing to make adjustments based on soil and weather
conditions. Strip tillage requires sufficient tractor horsepower to pull
the equipment at optimum speed and operating depth for proper coulter and
knife action, building the soil berm. Rule of thumb is to have a tractor with 20 to
25 horsepower per row of strip tillage. For example, you’ll need a 250 to 275
horsepower tractor to effectively pull a 12 row strip tillage bar. This will allow you to operate the
equipment at about five to six miles per hour and at proper depth, operating the
equipment at greater depth will require more tractor horsepower. For best results,
invest in the most precise level of guidance accuracy you can afford. RTK guidance technology offers a sub
inch precision level of repeatable guidance accuracy but requires a
significant investment. It’s important to plant the crop into
the center of tilled strips. RTK guidance helps match up tillage and planting
operations that may be separated by six months. Use of RTK guidance also reduces the need to match planter and strip tillage equipment width.
An eight row strip till bar with a lower cost and tractor horsepower
requirement can confidently be matched with a 12, 16 or 24 row planter. For more
information about strip tillage crop management, contact the Iowa Learning Farms, your
local Natural Resources Conservation Service office or Midwest landgrant
University Extension agronomy websites. Strip tillage, when carefully considered
and executed, can be a viable Land Management alternative that reduces soil
erosion and production costs and will help you farm successfully.

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