Strip-Tillage: A Sustainable Effort

It didn’t take much for Matt Rich­mond, Midwest field technology lead with Wilbur-Ellis Co., Onida, SD, to convince Thad Beringer to try strip-tillage on his farm last year. With benefits like favorable soil temperature, adequate moisture for seed germination and early emergence, Beringer was on board.

“In this part of the country, most farmers practice no-till farming because of our lighter, well-drained soils,” says Beringer, who farms winter and spring wheat, corn and sunflowers near Gettysburg, SD. “Strip-till is a great way to get the benefits of tillage while leaving the inter-row untilled, retaining crop residues and protecting the soil from erosion.” In addition, the 11-bushel-per-acre yield gain compared to his no-till corn fields is the reason he plans to strip till more acres next year.

Strip-tilling combines the best components of conventional tillage with the benefits of no till. In the fall, strip-till creates strips of exposed soil, broken up by a coulter. In the spring, the strip of exposed soil warms and dries faster to promote fast root growth, rapid germination and nutrient uptake. The surrounding residue also helps maintain moisture throughout the growing season.

Strip-tillage also gives the advantage of getting in the field earlier to optimize yields, have drier corn at harvest and a greater window of opportunity for replant decisions, compared to no-till, which delays soil warming and drying in the early spring thus affecting germination and emergence. “Not only was I able to plant my strip-tilled fields earlier than my no-till fields, but the soil to seed contact was significantly better in wetter conditions,” says Beringer.

Using Innovative Technologies

Wilbur-Ellis’ Richmond is a strong believer in strip-tillage because of the yield, planting and fertilizer placement advantages. Between the spring and fall of 2013, the retailer custom strip-tilled more than 10,000 acres and saw an average corn yield advantage of 13 bushels per acre compared to no-till.

As one of the few ag retailers in central South Dakota that offers custom strip-tillage and variable-rate fertilizer placement, Wilbur Ellis recently acquired a second 24-row SoilWarrior N 5060 to meet growing demand. Environmental Tillage System’s SoilWarrior N provides targeted seed zone preparation while blending fertilizer throughout the root zone providing optimal fertilizer placement and ideal seed bed. “Banding into the soil has made our fertility programs a lot more effective and efficient,” Richmond notes. “Zone tillage also creates an even furrow for planting and allows for good depth control for favorable germination.

“Zone tillage allows growers to increase their fertilizer rates applied in the ground before planting,” explains Richmond. “Conventionally, fertilizer is applied with planter attachments, limiting the amount that’s applied.”

Precise fertilizer placement allows available nutrients to be taken up at the critical early stages of growth to maximize yield potential. One-pass tillage and fertilizer placement also saves trips across the field, reducing input costs.

It’s Beringer’s goal to eventually strip-till every acre. “Besides the benefits in our corn acres, we’ve also seen an increase in stands and a 300 pound per acre yield gain on our sunflower fields,” he says. “If one system can benefit multiple crops, it’s a good investment.”

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