The return of strip till
Do you remember more than 10 years ago, when researchers and Extension staffers were doing all they could to make strip till a reality? Back then the practice — also widely referred to as zone till — showed a lot of promise, but there were also a lot of headaches.
The key was the challenge of incorporating dry fertilizer and tillage in the fall, then coming back the following spring to try to visually line up the planter over the berm and deliver the seed and nutrients into the prepared ground. While the people interested in this technique worked hard at it, they were never able to show an economic benefit, no matter how much it seemed like the technique should have delivered that bonus.
Since the turn of the millennium however, there have been myriad advances in agronomy, technology and knowledge. Sometimes it’s a bit dizzying to keep up. Consider that the past 14 seasons have seen the advances such as the widespread adoption of Bt hybrids, Refuge-in-a-Bag convenience, stacked trait technology, higher planting populations and densities, and full-season hybrid genetics.
Now, precision ag is helping to push the limits even further with variable-rate planting, enhanced seed singulation and a growing awareness of the full benefits of real-time kinematics (RTK) technology. The science is complex, but the basic concept is simple. RTK delivers greater positioning accuracy. It’s a complex process that takes a GPS signal, interprets the wave carrying that signal and refines a location to within a fraction of a centimetre, and it’s this GPS accuracy that can deliver agriculture inputs exactly where they need to go.
Thanks to the latest enhancements with RTK, strip till is making a comeback, primarily in the northern tier states such as Minnesota and Wisconsin. In that region, the practice is finding favor with growers on lighter soils and marginal ground who are looking to do less tillage but also want better fertilizer placement. Although it can be accomplished successfully on loamy or heavier soils, the window for such a fall practice is more limited both by weather and harvest conditions. If growers miss that fall application opportunity, chances are they’ll just default to conventional methods in the spring.
Now, despite the differences in weather, harvest timing and management practices, the strip till trend is also making its way back into Eastern Canada. Agronomists, advisers, dealers and extension personnel are monitoring its uptake, as well as the opportunities to make the most of the trend. Tony Balkwill of Nithfield Advanced Agronomy, has seen an increase in grower interest in strip till in the past five years, and he believes more growers will be adopting it in years to come.
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