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Don’t take it all off—

By Staff | Nov 27, 2009

A farmer inspects the burms left by a single pass of a strip-tilling machine. More than 40 farmers, equipment representatives and ag. researchers were in Emmetsburg Thursday for the strip-till event.

By KEVIN STILLMAN

Farm News staff writer

EMMETSBURG – With proper application of modern technology farmers can afford to see their fields for just the rows, that is the message agricultural experts tried to get across to farmers Thursday during a strip-till field day in Emmet County.

More than 40 farmers, experts and equipment manufacturers gathered at the farm on the Iowa Lakes Community College’s campus to watch equipment demonstrations and listen to presentations by experts from ISU Extension and the Iowa Learning Farm.

The goal of the event was to show farmers how they may be able to produce high yields with smaller investments of time and money by using precision technology to turn soil and applying fertilizer only where crops will be eventually be planted.

An Ag. Systems strip-till machine pulls through a field at the farm on the Iowa Lakes Community College campus Thursday in Emmetsburg. Strip-till machines are designed to turn soil and place fertilizer only where the crop will eventually be planted, leaving the rest of the field in a no-till state.

“Strip-till is really just an outgrowth of anhydrous application, and that’s just how simple it can be,” said Dave Nelson, a multiyear strip-till farmer and owner of Brokaw Supply Co., in Fort Dodge. “You’re already putting your anhydrous or your P (phosphorus) and K (potassium) down into the field; it just makes sense to put your rows right on top of where those nutrients are.”

In addition to precise placement of nutrients, strip-till is intended create a churned seedbed that allows rows to dry and warm faster than the rest of the field.

An ISU associate professor, Mahdi Al-Kaisi said strip-till has been shown to have a positive effect on corn germination and demonstrated yield gains of up to 15 bushels per acre for corn planted into bean ground.

“The argument for tilling corn residue to improve organic matter is not supported by research,” Al-Kaisi said. “There is however evidence that strip-till allows us to use essentially a no-till system in cornstalks without any loss of yield.”

Participants demonstrated strip-till toolbars and fertilizer tenders from Remlinger, Blue Jet, Ag. Systems and Montag by making test passes through a row of soybeans and standing corn stubble.

Dave Nelson, a strip-till farmer and Fort Dodge business owner, explains how winter freezes and thaws help strip-till equipment create a better seedbed for the following spring. Strip-till setups can range from simply tilling strips of soil for eventual planting to tilling and applying variable rate fertilizers with a single pass.

The implements are specialized to seed anhydrous and other fertilizers while using additional components to clear residue and create burms for planting.

Three farmers who have successfully employed strip-till, Nelson, Mark Mitchell, from Estherville, and Allen McCarty, of Linn Grove, also shared the lessons they have learned while using the system.

They said specialized implements are not a necessity for strip-till. Many farmers create their own toolbars by combining components from other equipment. However, they added, the best results are achieved with the use of high precision global positioning technology.

“Some form of auto-steer is a must,” Nelson said. “There are GPS systems that are more and less accurate, but if you put your seed in the middle of that burm it’s going to find everything it needs right there and it’s not going to have to use energy sending out extra roots to find it.”

Each of the experimenting farmers agreed that using strip-till had allowed them to lower their costs for fertilizer by as much as 50 percent and complete their field preparation with fewer passes.

They also said the system did not, as some had feared, require significantly more horsepower to tow the combined tiller-fertilizer equipment.

Disadvantages to the system include complexity and a diminished effectiveness where strip-tillage cannot be completed during fall.

The experimenters agreed the program could easily take on varying levels of complexity, from simply applying anhydrous on-row instead of on the diagonal, to configuring a dedicated strip-till toolbar for application of multiple nutrients at variable rates.

The success of strip-till is also more dependent on moisture levels, the farmers said. Experimenters found their equipment was effective in wetter spring soils and most effective when winter freezes and thaws had time to breakup the soil overturned in the fall.

Because of the potential environmental benefits of strip-tillage, the event was also promoted as part of the Residue Matters campaign launched last month for northwest Iowa. Representatives of Ag Partners Cooperative, one of the partner organizations along with ISU Extension and the learning farm, were on hand to discuss strip-till and other limited tillage systems.

“We’re happy to be part of these events that give us ideas on how to be mindful of the environment and to be profitable at the same time,” said Brett Peelen, Precision Ag specialist out of Ag Partners’ Sheldon office. “Our offices are out in your communities, so if you have any questions about strip-till or any other residue management issues we are always ready to talk about that.”

Contact Kevin Stillman by e-mail at stillman.kw@gmail.com.

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