Strip-tillage crop management
As attention increases on protecting Midwest water bodies from agricultural fertilizer and sediment runoff while diesel fuel prices rise, farmers and landowners may be interested in learning more about strip-tillage as a farming practice. Strip-tillage conserves soil and valuable crop fertilizer nutrients while reducing fuel and related operating costs.
Improved planting equipment and herbicides make no-till crop management an option. Long-term no-till crop management very effectively reduces soil erosion, restores soil structure and improves water infiltration. But heavy Des Moines Lobe soils typical of north-central Iowa and southern Minnesota farmland commonly feature poor internal drainage and can be slow to warm in the spring. Increased amounts of surface residue typical of no-till crop management can be a hindrance if not managed properly. This can result in planting delays and poor early seedling vigor of no-till planted corn, potentially reducing grain yields.
Strip-tillage crop management may be a viable alternative to full-width tillage.
Strip-tillage is a happy medium between the benefits of no-till and the drawbacks of traditional full-width tillage. Farmers considering strip-tillage should evaluate the costs and benefits to decide on the best fit for their farming operation. Specific components of a strip-tillage implement vary, but the basic configuration includes coulters, disks, a subsurface shank or mole knife to inject fertilizer at depth within the tilled strip, and covering disks.
Making the Switch
When switching from full-width tillage to strip-tillage farmers must understand that they are making the transition to a system that requires a higher level of management. With strip-tillage, correcting primary tillage traits (e.g. soil clods or wheel tracks) with a spring seedbed preparation pass is eliminated—the subsequent crop’s seedbed is being established with a single strip-tillage operation in the fall or early spring. This makes it especially important to monitor soil moisture conditions as well as the condition of the soil berms being created by strip-tillage equipment. As with any tillage operation, avoid field operation when soil conditions are too wet, as clods and compaction can result.
Before investing in your own equipment, ask a neighbor with strip-tillage experience to custom strip-till a portion of one of your fields to demonstrate how best to set up and adjust the equipment. Newcomers to strip-tillage quickly recognize the importance of proper equipment set-up, monitoring and willingness to make adjustments based on soil and weather conditions.
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