The return of strip till
In Balkwill’s experience, it’s a matter of showing the farmer — by way of a good soil sampling — where the highs and lows are, and instead of applying something on a “straight rate” basis, trying more of a prescription application with the strip till. It’s the same amount of fertilizer, Balkwill says, it’s just being moved to those spots in the field where it’s going to be the greatest benefit, and the application method is incorporated with minimum tillage. Once farmers see the difference that such precision makes, they seldom go back.
“You get some innovative guys doing it, and good farmers pick it up, then a neighbour, and away you go,” says Balkwill, who cites two primary factors for its increasing interest. “We have great equipment options with planters, to be flexible in conventional, mid-till and no-till situations, all on one rig. So if we fall strip till, we assume there’s a slight no-till situation. If we come in the spring, because a lot of those rows may have some trash on them or have firmed up a little bit, you need to address that so you don’t get hair-pinning. So guys can slow down with the planter, make sure they have a good seed depth and a good bed so that they’re not just punching a bunch of cornstalks down into the trench. There’s been a lot more availability of just add-ons to make a planter into whatever you want.”
In the U.S., the recent uptake has come primarily because growers are looking for opportunities to accomplish more with a single pass. Fall strip till is more prevalent in the Midwest, particularly with the popularity of getting on fall anhydrous, and Balkwill says he knows of a number of custom dealers in the U.S. who are now offering strip-till services to help ease the bottleneck that can come later in the season.
On this side of the border
In Ontario and across Eastern Canada, the return of strip till has been somewhat slower. But the arrival of RTK technology has been arguably the biggest factor in grower interest, on either side of the border. Still, there are several “cultural” differences between strip-till practices here and those in the U.S., and according to Greg Stewart, OMAF’s corn industry lead, the biggest factor is the preference for fall nitrogen applications in the U.S.
“Don’t forget the fall nitrogen factor that still plays on what’s perceived as strip till,” says Stewart, referring to growers in the Midwest. “It’s based on the idea that they’re going to go out and put down fall anhydrous anyway, so they’re thinking, ‘Let’s make it into a strip-till operation while we’re putting fall anhydrous out.’ Here (in Ontario), we don’t have that springboard to come from, which has always been a big driver of the fall strip-tillage phenomenon in certain areas.”