In terms of tillage intensity, strip-till falls in a category between conventional tillage and no-till. Therefore, the effect it has on soil organic matter status is intermediate. Soil organic matter could improve where conventional tillers adopt strip-till, but could be reduced where no-tillers begin to use strip-till. In either case, the effect on soil organic matter should be minimal, and only measurable over long time periods.
All tillage choices should be weighed against the effects they have on natural resources. Strip-till should not be used on highly sloped ground. In this situation, exposed soil strips are subject to erosion. This is especially risky if the strips run up and down the hill, rather than following a contour. Exposed soil in a tillage strip also might increase the risk of crusting as compared to a no-till system. As a system for wind erosion control, strip-till should be a great improvement over a conventional till system, because the maintenance of standing residue will reduce the wind speed near the soil surface and provide sediment traps for any suspended particles. On sandy soils, place strips east to west, or at least at an angle different from the prevailing winds, to prevent the wind from blowing down the strip. Water erosion potential can be reduced with strip-till as compared to conventionally tilled systems. The alternating strips of residue that remain will slow surface water movement and will maintain high infiltration rates because of surface protection provided by residue. Wildlife also benefit from increased cover and nesting areas.
Strip-till is fairly new. Research on how to best use this tool is still being compiled. The implement exists in many different designs, which also indicates how uncertain the industry is on how best to use this technology.
There are still many unknowns. For example, for soils with near surface compaction, will strip-till help by shallow ripping directly where the row will be planted? Can strip-till improve planting conditions on fields that have been recently grazed by livestock? Are the positive yield effects seen by some researchers because of soil temperature changes, nutrient availability ability, more efficient use of precipitation, or some other factor? Time will tell. But what we do know is because of warmer soil temperatures and deep fertilizer placement, continuous corn may benefit from strip-till. Conversely, crops, such as soybean, sunflower, and sorghum, which are typically planted later, when the soil environment has improved, are less likely to respond to strip-till. Strip-till implements provide an excellent means of deep banding fertilizer, which will improve efficiency and reduce the risk of nutrient loss to the environment. Soil erosion potential in a strip-till system will be intermediate to the high risk in conventional tillage systems and the very low risk seen in no-till systems.
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