Strip tillage for high-residue irrigated cropping systems
click image to zoom Research from Iowa found no difference in corn yield between strip tillage, no tillage, and conventional tillage in a corn-soybean rotation (Al-Kaisi and Licht 2004). Research from 2004 to 2008 in Montana showed strip tillage in sugar beets after cereals maintained sugar beet yield (figure 2), sugar content, and sucrose yield as compared to conventional tillage (Evans et al. 2009). Five to seven tillage trips were eliminated by changing tillage systems to strip tillage in this study, showing that strip tillage is more economical. In summary, research has shown that strip tillage matches conventional yield levels.
click image to zoomFrom Evans et al. (2010)Figure 2. Average sugar beet yield with sprinkler irrigation using conventional tillage and fall strip tillage after cereals at the Northern Plains Agricultural Research Laboratory Sidney, MT, over five years on clay loam soils, 2004–2008. More about Strip Tillage
Strip tillage and planting can be done separately in a two-pass system (figure 3) or in a one-pass system, often using a caddy to connect the strip tillage unit to the planter (figure 4). Auto-steer systems are generally used with both one- and two-pass systems.
click image to zoomSteve NorbergFigure 3. Example of a strip tillage machine (two-pass system) used as the only pass before planting. Note this machine has rolling coulters, to cut residue, and ripper shanks, which may go as deep as 14 inches, closing fluted coulters and packers. If planting is done in a two-pass system, strip tillage can be done in the fall or in the spring, right up to planting. As with any tillage, do not till when soils are too wet, because compaction may occur and reduce the effectiveness of strip tillage fracturing the soil. One advantage of the two-pass system is soil temperature. Strip tillage before planting moves the residue to the row middles, allowing the soil to warm up for planting. In heavy, wet soils it will take longer for the soil to warm than in dry, sandy soils. Strip tillage done in the fall may allow for an earlier planting if soils remain wet in the spring. When considering timing of the strip tillage, consider issues like work load and cattle grazing. You do not want livestock in the field after strip tillage, as they will compact the soil in the strip and create problems.
click image to zoomAndrew McGuire, Washington State UniversityFigure 4. A one-pass system strip tillage setup with a caddy connecting the strip tillage unit with the planter. Planting the seed accurately in the center of the tilled strip is essential to establishing a successful stand. With the one-pass system, the strip tillage unit is physically connected to the planter and makes this task easy. With the two-pass system, accurate planting can be precisely accomplished with the aid of an auto-guidance system. Currently, the most accurate method of accomplishing this is the real-time kinematic global positioning system (RTK GPS), which uses satellite and ground-based radio signals together to provide the differential corrections, which, depending on the system, can enable sub-inch accuracy (figure 5). However, less technical approaches (e.g., traditional marker strips placed on the soil surface) can be effective in some situations (figures 6 and 7). As with any tillage system, all components of the system must be in place to be successful.
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