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Promoting strip-till—

By Staff | Sep 25, 2009

Doug Seltz, of Clare, gesturing, explains how his strip-till implement and how he can make the equivalent of four or five passes with one trip across the field, saving in fuel costs. The strip-till field day was held at his farm.

By LARRY KERSHNER/Farm News news editor

CLARE – About 40 area producers heard Tuesday night that strip-tilling can not only save them input costs throughout the growing year, but will add to their qualification for government programs and help them be better stewards of the soil.

Event organizer Dave Nelson, an Otho farmer and co-owner of Brokaw Supply in Fort Dodge, told producers that strip-till gives them the possibility of making four and five passes in one trip across the field in the fall. In essence, producers make just four trips over their fields each year tilling, planting, spraying and combining.

Strip-tilling is a fall tillage method that digs a 6-inch strip 7 inches deep across the field. Equipment can be added to apply a variety of nutrients into the furrows at that time. In the spring, planting is done in the strips. With the fall-applied nutrients available in the strips, Nelson said, the plants get to it easier “and don’t have to search for it.”

Nelson said the cost of managing one’s crops with strip-till can save upward to $30,000 each year, primarily in reduced fuel usage.

A trench was dug to show the deep root system that corn plants develop in a strip-till regimen. The roots reached down at least three feet.

“There are various types of strip-tilling,” Nelson told the group, “and lots of opinions on what strip-tilling is. One way will not fit everyone.”

Nelson said many producers have converted anhydrous racks into strip-till equipment, thereby avoiding costly purchase of new iron. One producer in the audience said he had converted his rack for about $15,000.

In addition, Nelson said that new precision agriculture technology with auto steer and GPS have made planting into the strips less challenging.

More mellow soil

Mark Thompson, a Badger area farmer, said he’s been using strip-till on his corn acres for six years and said the improved “tilthiness” of his soil is readily evident over the days when he was using conventional tillage. He said economics is what initially got his attention to strip-till, but in the second year, he said he already saw a difference in how his soil reacted.

He noted that in heavy rain, his field soaked in water faster than in neighboring conventionally tilled fields. He said that when he drives over the ground, “it’s so spongy that it just bounces right back.”

He credits the improved tilth to less disturbance of the soil through reduced tillage. Also, by eliminating anhydrous ammonia from his fields, earthworms have become plentiful again, which soften the soil by burrowing through it. He added that the holes bored by worms also helps to drain water and get moisture to the deeper roots.

“I see more nightcrawlers than ever before,” Thompson said, adding that they also consume the residue from the previous year and in turn help to fertilize the soil.

Government programs

Denis Schulte, Natural Resources and Conservation Service district conservationist for Webster and Hamilton counties, said that because strip-till is a reduced tillage soil management system, it will provide producers with more points to help them qualify for the Conservation Security Program, which has a sign-up deadline of Sept. 30. (See related story on page 4B.)

Strip-till, Schulte said, “is just one of the tools producers have to reduce costs, earn extra income and become more profitable.”

Contact Larry Kershner at (515) 573-2141, ext. 453, or by e-mail at kersh@farm-news.com.

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