Strip till for field crop production
The trend among northern Plains farmers is toward using less tillage to produce field crops with more residue left on the soil surface. Strip till is a field tillage system that combines no tillage and full tillage to produce row crops. Narrow strips, 6 to 12 inches wide, are tilled in crop stubble, with the area between the rows left undisturbed. Often, fertilizer is injected into the tilled area during the strip-tilling operation. The tilled strips correspond to planter row widths of the next crop, and seeds are planted directly into the tilled strips. Strip tilling normally is done in the fall after harvest, but it also can be done in the spring before planting.
Advantages of Strip Till
• Reduces soil erosion because most of the soil remains covered with crop residue throughout the year
• Increases water infiltration compared with full-field tillage
• Releases less carbon into the atmosphere and maintains higher levels of soil organic matter
• Promotes seed germination and plant emergence because the tilled strips warm sooner in the spring
• Conserves soil moisture because most of the soil surface area is covered with crop residue
• Results in crop yields that are similar or higher compared with other tillage systems
• Reduces expenses, including fuel and labor, by eliminating some primary and secondary tillage
Strip Till Qualifies for NRCS Conservation Incentives
Strip tillage can be used to qualify for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) conservation management/no-till incentive programs. To qualify for NRCS no-till incentive programs, a Soil Tillage Intensity Rating (STIR) value of 10 or less is required. STIR is a numerical value calculated using RUSLE2, a computer model that predicts long-term average annual erosion by water. This model is based on crop management decisions implemented in a field. The NRCS assigns a numerical value to each tillage operation. STIR values range from 0 to 200, with lower scores indicating reduced soil disturbance. Other benefits of low STIR values include increased organic matter content of the soil and improved water infiltration rates.
Strip Till Improves Carbon Sequestration
Soil organic matter plays a critical role in the global carbon cycle. Soil can act as both a major source for carbon released into the atmosphere and a sink to store carbon. When carbon is stored in the soil, it is not released to the atmosphere as greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4). Tillage increases microbial action on organic matter stored in the soil and normally increases the rate of decomposition that changes organic carbon into CO2. Soil organic matter is directly related to soil fertility and positively correlated with agricultural productivity potential.
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