Consider the strip-tillage alternative
Recently it was found that removing residue or strip-tilling to create a residue-free zone improves corn germination due to increased soil temperature at the top 2 inches. Many producers are currently using planter attachments that move no-till residue away from the row during planting.
This assists in more rapid warming of the soil and combats slow germination caused by cold and residue-covered soils.
Topography is important to consider before using strip-tillage. In areas where the soil slope is steep or on highly erodible land (HEL), strip-tillage may not be the best choice. The disturbance of soil and removal of crop residue can create a significant water erosion problem in the row on steep slopes. It is recommended that after soybeans, at least 70 percent residue should be on the surface before strip-tilling. Strip tillage is recommended on relatively flat land with poorly drained soils, where soil temperatures tend to be cold.
Every tillage practice requires specific equipment to achieve the intended results. For most farmers, strip-tillage equipment is readily available with slight modifications. The main components can include but are not limited to anhydrous ammonia applicator knives or other subsurface fertilizer injection systems, roto tillers, in-row chisels, row cleaners, double-discs, and planters equipped with fluted coulters.
A few adjustments may be needed. For example, an adjustment may be needed to ensure a good match between the strip tillage devices and the planter. Another consideration is to ensure consistent tilled zone depth and width (for example, 8 to 9 inches deep and 6 to 8 inches wide). The most common implement for strip-tillage systems consists of a heavy tool bar to which row markers, coulters, knives, and covering disks are attached. With anhydrous applicators or other fertilizer injection knives, consider moving the knife positions out of the wheel tracks to avoid planting in compacted soil. This is especially advisable if strip-tillage is conducted in the early spring. The knives, coulters, and covering disks must be located on the tool bar to exactly match the planter size (e.g., 8-row, 30-inches, or 12-row, 30-inches).
The front coulters must be large enough to help cut into corn residue without getting plugged. The knives, which can be used for anhydrous application, must be located exactly behind the coulters, where they can open an area 6 to 8 inches wide and 8 to 9 inches deep.
Strip-tillage also can include fertilizer application attachments. The integration of tillage and nutrient or fertilizer application equipment makes strip-tillage more appealing and challenging at the same time. A typical strip-tillage set consists of a dry fertilizer cart and an anhydrous ammonia tank hitched to the tillage toolbar. Adequate horsepower for the depth of tillage and the load resistance created by fertilizer equipment is critical.