The return of strip till
In the U.S., integrating fertilizer and strip till almost always translates into the combination of fall nitrogen along with the tillage practice, Stewart explains. In Ontario, it means bringing dry products and integrating dry fertilizer (particularly phosphorus and potash) into the strip. That can be done in the fall, but Stewart’s personal preference is to apply them in the spring.
“If you thought you needed to do a fall pass, well maybe you were going to do that anyway,” explains Stewart. “But then, heaven forbid, if you need to touch up that strip in the spring again, well now you’re at two passes. And then what happens if you realize that you used to just broadcast all of your fertilizer before, and you can’t do that now, particularly with nitrogen, so you’re going to have to move from broadcast nitrogen to side dress nitrogen. So where are the savings in this strip-till system (with three passes)?”
Stewart adds that there’s interest from those growers who wanted to be doing some form of conservation tillage, but didn’t like the idea of working in no till, and the use of RTK certainly continues to feed into that notion.
“And I personally believe there’s more appetite for trying to make the fertilizer-strip-till combo work,” says Stewart. “We have an increasing amount of gear that could bring that together, so that would be another component — that desire to try to amalgamate the fertilizer and strip till.”
Worth more research
Both Balkwill and Stewart are looking at research projects coming in the spring. In November 2013, Stewart received approval on a two-year study that will tackle the idea of new designs on strip-till equipment, with an eye on improving or streamlining operations in the spring, including the use of fertilizer blends and in particular, poly-coated urea.
“That’s so the risk of burning the seed with just straight urea can be eliminated, and then after that we can test the GPS for the contour ability, and that’d be a system we’d really like to sink our teeth into,” Stewart says. It’s a lot to consider — spring strip till with one pass, plus fertilization in one pass, and even do it all on the contours and then be able to plant. Then there’s the variety of options in terms of equipment, including fall versus spring, applying fertilizer in the fall versus applying it in the spring. “But this is a targeted approach that digs into making it a system that is spring only, all fertilizer only and GPS driven, to see if we can’t put a package together that gets more people looking at it.”
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