ILF: Strip-till = better soil
By KRISS NELSON
GILMORE CITY – Both economic and conservation factors should to be considered when it comes to what type of tillage practices are used out in the field.
According to the Iowa Learning Farm, with high fuel prices, cash rents and land costs, there has never been a better time to explore reduced tillage options.
In order to show one method of reduced tillage, the ILF hosted a strip-tillage field day Tuesday at the Robert Lynch farm near Gilmore City.
The ILF describes strip-tillage as marrying the best aspects of conventional tillage with the benefits of no-till. During post-harvest or spring pre-plant field work, a strip-till toolbar creates strips of tilled soil leaving surface residue undisturbed.
In the spring, corn or soybeans are planted into the strips, which warm and dry faster than the rest of the field, making this system ideal for some Iowa soil types, according to the ILF.
With this practice, landowners and farmers should see better water infiltration, improved soil structure and potential for reduced fuel, machinery and other crop input costs.
Lynch and his son, Jay Lynch, have been practicing strip-till for several years converting over after ridge-tilling for several years.
The Lynches began ridge-tilling, Robert Lynch said, 19 years ago, but converted to strip-till when it was time to upgrade equipment.
It took three years to flatten the ridges, Lynch said, and they’ve been strip-tilling since.
Strip-tilling allows the Lynches to leave residue on their land, keeping their land covered during the non-growing months of the winter and spring.
“I like leaving as much residue on the surface for soil protection in the winter and spring,” Lynch said.
Since beginning strip-till, Lynch said he has noticed an increase in soil structure on his farms, and paired with micro-organisms and earthworms, in turn lead to better water infiltration.
“This isn’t your neighbor’s soil, it has structure,” he said.
The Lynches plant soybeans into standing stalks and found other benefits to that practice in addition to decreased soil erosion.
“The standing stalks helped with wind erosion and protected the plants in the winds this year,” he said.
The stalks had also deteriorated by fall, creating no harvest issues.
Another factor helping with their improved soil structure, Lynch said, is they stopped using anhydrous ammonia.
“We stopped using anhydrous some time ago and have noticed our soil structure has improved,” he said. He said he feels safer using other forms of nitrogen.
Matt Thompson, a Webster County area farmer and fellow strip-tiller for eight years, said he started strip-tilling for better field economy, as well as conservation.
Time was also a factor, Thompson said, who works full-time as a farm manager and strip-tilling has been working to accommodate working both on and off of the farm.
Thompson said he’s tried four strip-till toolbars trying to find the system that can handle the high residue conditions of his corn-on-corn acres.
He said they are currently using a Sukup high-residue implement that features residue cleaners on the front as well as three different adjustment points on each row unit.
“It’s a custom-built rig to fit our operation,” he said.
Another way Thompson is solving his high residue issue is the use of products to help break down residue.
“That has been working well,” he said. “We also did trials with vertical tillage tools, but I could not justify the cost of using those machines so we are back to using spray products.”
Strip-tilling is still a learning process for Thompson.
“There’s 500 different ways to strip till and I’ve learned over the years to incorporate ideas, learn from others, have an open mind and learn to adapt,” he said.
Adaptation comes along with different growing conditions. Wetter years, Thompson said, are harder years for strip-tilling.
Thompson said he was thrilled with his results this year, considering the dry conditions.
His soils retained moisture and plants had protection from residue that was left out in the field.
“I can’t believe all of the fields getting tilled,” he said. “I am thinking they’ll lose 1 to 2 inches of moisture; I sure hope not.”
Since practicing strip-till, he said the benefits are accumulating.
“My soils just work so much different now than they used to,” Thompson said. “I have never had my planter work as nice as it has the last few years
” I can see soil structure and not the fine powder you see with conventional-tillage.”
Lessened weed pressure is another advantage to strip-till, Thompson said. Not disturbing soil between the rows means not helping to germinate weed seeds.
When placing fertilizer, Thompson said he strives for placement to be 2 inches below the seed zone and has yet to have any issues with any type of fertilizer burn.
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