Building strip-till confidence to manage variability
It can take years for strip-tillers to find the right combination of equipment and a suitable fertility program to make the most of their operation.
For Mark Bauer, an essential part of the journey is having the confidence to invest in a system and stick with it. After trying no-till and other surface-tillage practices, the Faribault, Minn., farmer and founder of Environmental Tillage Systems (ETS) committed to a two-pass system for strip-till, despite not knowing if it would work.
“I really didn’t have a comfort level if this was going to be a sustainable methodology at the time we made the commitment to build the first machine,” he says.
But if he could duplicate what was being done with conventional tillage, it would give him the edge that has been missing in strip-till. By duplicate, he means primary tillage in the fall and then with the same machine, fluff and warm the strips spring.
“A lot of farmers have a backup plan, or have two systems on their farm,” Bauer says. “We took a chance that the methodology would allow us to farm our variable soils with whatever Mother Nature threw at us, without having to go buy something else.”
It’s been more than 10 years since Bauer built the first Soil Warrior strip-till unit, and his commitment to building fall strips on 1,700 acres of corn and soybeans, then making a secondary pass with the unit prior to planting, has paid off with consistent yields, improved soil health and overall efficiency.
But sticking to the strip-till system isn't without its challenges. Bauer admits it’s taken patience and persistence to realize the benefits.
Like many farmers in southeastern Minnesota, Bauer deals with unpredictable weather patterns, a range of soil types and varying topography, all of which can contribute to inconsistent crop productivity.
His soils are predominantly silt loams and tend to be highly erosive, so finding a way to keep those soils in place and maintain yield consistency throughout extreme weather was difficult, Bauer says.
“We have organic matters of 0.5% to as high as 9%, and slopes as high as 8% or 9%, so we have to work around basins and waterways,” he says. “It was very difficult to find a machine that would function in every aspect of our soil types and topography.”
He started with a 40-foot, 16-row Soil Warrior with 30-inch cogwheels and serrated coulters to build 10-inch-wide, and 8- to 10 inch-deep strips in the fall. Then in spring, Bauer swaps out the cogwheels for 20-inch wavy coulters, which turn over and warm up the top few inches of soil in the strip.
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