Strip-tillage crop management
Strip-tillage allows the farmer to prepare the seedbed only, or to simultaneously subsurface apply nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium fertilizers in the bottom of the tilled strip. Some farmers broadcast dry phosphorus and potassium fertilizer and follow up with the strip-tillage operation. This approach incorporates dry fertilizer into the tilled soil strips where it is readily available for uptake by young crop seedlings. Many farmers apply anhydrous ammonia fertilizer as part of their fall strip-tillage operation; however, it is important to balance fall strip-tillage with the need to delay anhydrous ammonia fertilizer application until soil temperatures stabilize below 50°F degrees. Cooler soil temperatures slow the rate of microbial conversion of ammonia to nitrate and reduce the risk of subsurface nitrate losses to groundwater.
Strip-tillage should not be seen as a substitute for no-till on highly-erodible land, where the tilled soil strips are subject to water erosion. This is especially true if the farmer strip-tills up and down field slopes, rather than following the contour.
Experienced strip-tillers emphasize the need for sufficient tractor horsepower to pull the equipment at optimum speed and operating depth for proper coulter and knife action, building the soil berm. A rule of thumb is to have a tractor with 15 to 20 horsepower (HP) per row of strip-tillage. For example, a 250-275 HP tractor will be needed to effectively pull a 12-row strip-tillage bar. This will allow operation of the equipment at about 5 to 6 MPH and at proper depth. Operating the equipment at greater depth and speed will require more tractor horsepower.
Strip-tillage can be implemented without precision guidance tools but most farmers suggest that dollars spent on the most-precise level of accuracy, such as RTK (Real Time Kinetic) guidance, is worth the investment. Effort should be made to plant the crop into the center of tilled strips. RTK guidance technology with sub-inch accuracy helps match up last fall’s tillage and this spring’s planting operations. Use of RTK guidance also reduces the need to match planter and strip-tillage equipment width. For example, an eight-row strip-tillage bar, with a lower investment cost and tractor horsepower requirement, can confidently be matched with a 12-, 16-, or 24-row planter.
Farmers who have adopted strip-tillage cite several advantages to using the practice:
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