Technology, focused fertility smooth strip-till transition
Steve Berning is a big believer in measuring what he manages, which has helped him efficiently strip-till 2,000 rented acres of continuous corn at Galusha Farm in Warrenville, Ill.
Berning credits an ambitious adoption of precision technology several years ago as key to preparing for his switch from broad-based tillage to strip-till in fall 2011.
“I set a goal for myself that in 3 years, I would make the move to strip-till, and I remember talking with my trusted advisors and agronomist about what technology I needed to buy at the time for my planter row shutoffs to make strip-tillage happen, without wasting money on precision equipment,” Berning says. “We came up with a plan and I pulled the trigger on $40,000 worth of precision equipment the first year and never looked back.”
The initial investment included OmniStar guidance, two Ag Leader monitor displays and SeedCommand row shutoffs on his planter, and Precision Planting’s 20/20 SeedSense system to track planter performance.
When it came time to research strip-till units, Berning hosted a two field days and invited several manufacturers to demonstrate their equipment. He ended up purchasing a 12-row SoilWarrior strip-till rig made by Environmental Tillage Systems.
“I was continuous corn, and what I like about the ETS unit is that it cut through those stalks after harvest, even in wet conditions,” Berning says. “RTK allows me to stay on the strips accurately and build a nice seedbed zone for spring, and I’m also able to precisely apply all of my phosphorus and potassium fertilizer in the fall and some 32% nitrogen in spring as I’m strip-tilling through the field.”
Despite thorough preparation and research, Mother Nature threw Berning a curveball in each of his first 2 years of strip-tilling, with extreme drought in 2012 and excessive moisture in 2013, which took a toll on yield averages.
But Berning has seen other early returns from his strip-till system, including variable-rate efficiencies, seed savings, healthier soils and a more targeted approach to fertilizer placement in the root zone.
Feeding The Soil
Berning prefers to build fall strips soon after harvest, going anywhere from 5 to 13 inches deep — depending on soil density layers — and 7 to 8 inches wide. He runs a single 30-inch diameter cog coulter with 10 bits inserted to till the strip, followed by two smaller closing blades to contain the dirt in each row.
Berning has two mounted steel dry fertilizer bins to variable-rate apply granulated phosphorus and potassium through a 1.75-inch-diameter hose injected behind the cog coulter, for optimum mixing of the dirt and fertilizer. For corn-on-corn ground, he applies an average of 250 pounds per acre of custom blend phosphorus and potassium, with the exact amount based on soil type.
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