By Sonja Begemann, Farm Journal Seeds and Crop Production Editor
For the past 20 years, one central Illinois farm family has used strip till to help improve soil and avoid runoff. To maximize efficiency and yields, they use a unique fertilizer system on their fields that helps save money, time and boost yield.
Given all the excessive rain and cool temperatures this spring in northern Indiana, there was some concern about how no-till and strip-till corn yields would end up at the end of the season. Well, the results from the 41st year of our long-term tillage plots near West Lafayette, Ind., are in and they tell an interesting story.
The environmental effects of agricultural production, e.g., soil erosion and the loss of sediment, nutrients, and pesticides to water, can be mitigated using conservation practices. Some practices are more widely adopted than other practices; no conservation practice has been universally adopted by U.S. farmers.
Farming 1,800 acres in south central Michigan, Ryan Groholske is accustomed to navigating rocky — though fertile — ground. Through long-term no-till practices, he’s been able to elevate organic matter content on some sandier soils to as much as 5%, while also creating a thriving habitat for earthworms.
Farmers have increasingly shifted away from conventional tillage to some form of reduced tillage. In part, this reflects efforts to control labor, fuel, and maintenance costs as well as the recognition that tillage can contribute to a decrease in overall soil health.
One of the ways growing numbers of farmers around the world are helping ensure the sustainability of their land for future generations is through conservation tillage practices such as no-till and strip-till.
More no-tillers are finding fertilizing and tilling a 6- to 8-inch narrow band of soil in the fall and planting into this strip the following spring definitely boosts corn yields. They find fall strip-tilling gives a warmer, mellower soil when no-tilling corn, plus it allows them to apply most of their phosphorus and potassium along with nitrogen in the fall.
As federal and state government begins to take action to monitor and prevent fertilizer runoff into watersheds — especially in the Great Lakes region — some farmers see strip-till as a preventative measure.