Strip-Till takes a lot of work to manage, but those who choose to implement strip-tilling can avoid these four common mistakes
1. Understand Your Equipment
Each Machine Is Unique
Sure, your tiller might work perfectly in mellow soil that crumbles exactly like you want. But then a unit might be used for hard, wet, compacted soils or rocky, stony soil which is impossible to break up, Gary Wallander, of Brillion Farm Equipment said. To make an even trickier situation, add 200-bushel of corn or bean residue.
“It’s situations like this that beg strip-tillers to set their expectation level where they are comfortable,” Wallander says. “In most cases, there is not a generic strip-till machine that will work in all conditions all of the time.”
Vince Tomlonovic, general manager of Hiniker Company also said that producers must adjust their machines according to the conditions it will be used in.
“Seldom does one setting fit all conditions,” he says.
Horsepower is Key
Some producers mistakingly use too little power.
“Strip-till implements, pulled at the proper depth, require 20 to 30 horsepower per shank,” said Mike Petersen, precision tillage agronomist at Orthman.
“A grower who believes his row width must be consistent from strip-till to planter to harvest and tries to pull a 12-row tool 8 inches deep at 5 mph with a 200-horsepower tractor can find all kinds of troubles,” Petersen says. “As a result, we see a lot of broken-down tractors, too much slippage, high fuel consumpti on, reduced pulling speed, cloddy conditions, poor seedbed and headaches galore.”
Even though strip-till tools state the recommended horsepower needed to pull the machine, it’s still necessary to know your soil type, according to Peterson.
“A grower who believes his row width must be consistent from strip-till to planter to harvest and tries to pull a 12-row tool 8 inches deep at 5 mph with a 200-horsepower tractor can find all kinds of troubles,” Petersen says. “As a result, we see a lot of broken-down tractors, too much slippage, high fuel consumption, reduced pulling speed, cloddy conditions, poor seedbed and headaches galore.”
While each of the strip-till tools on the market today have a recommended power need to pull each shank in the ground, Petersen adds it’s critical that you know your soil types.
“Sandy soils will require approximately 20 horsepower per shank unless the soil is seriously compacted, then sandy soils are like concrete,” Petersen said. “The heavier the texture, we know our tool will require 30 horsepower per shank.
“Studies have shown that in sandy-clay-loam soils, up to 4,000 pounds of force is required to push the shank into the ground and pull it at depths greater than 12 inches. Multiply that across 12 rows and there is a need for lots of horses up front to get the job done.
“It’s also well known that after 2 years of strip-tilling, farmers have seen a decrease in power needs because of the soil becoming more mellow, increased worm action, more residues and improved moisture conditions.”
Decide Your Strip-Till Goals
A stip-tiller can make the job extremely easy or extremely difficult, said Richard Follmer, owner of Progressive Farm Products.
“Farmers need to think about what they want to accomplish and how they want to accomplish it,” Follmer said. “When buying equipment for strip-till, the farmer needs to decide what fertilizer he’s going to place in the strips — dry or liquid — and whether he is going to apply anhydrous ammonia at the same time and how he will do that.”
Producers should never think of it as pulling a train in a field, said Follmer. Such a train would include the tractor, pull-between, a toolbar and a nurse tank. It would be more than 100 feet long!
train up to hook up to the nurse tank? What do you do when you get into a tight corner? How do you back into a corner?” Follmer says. “What the farmer needs to do is purchase a bar that has the dry or liquid equipment mounted right on the toolbar, is moved around like a two-wheeled cart and can be backed up and hooked up to a nurse tank by just the driver.”
Rab Zemenchik of Tillage Products said that many times tillers are not set up with the appropriate attachments for different residue, pressure or agronomic requirements.
“Residue managers, if necessary, should be on the planter, not the strip-till unit,” Zemenchik said. “Overly exposing the berm to weather over the winter can lead to berm erosion, leaving fields flat and losing the warm-up and drydown benefits of strip-till.”
Many times producers don’t even correctly match the components of the strip-till.
“Tractor horsepower and configuration, monitoring systems, planters and other implements need to interact well with the strip-till machine,” Zemenchik said.
“For example, picking ‘cheaper’ strip-till machines or converting old bars to reduce the cost of transition from conventional tillage may provide less draft, but often give up shank-depth consistency and holding power, leading to inconsistent field output, fertilizer placement when simultaneously root zone banding and planting depths.”
Make the Necessary Adjustments
Any good farmer knows how important it is to take time to evaluate how their combine is doing to ensure good performance. This is also true for strip-till applicators. The machines are doing many things at once, said Steve Drissel of John Deere.
Many times, strip-till machines are set and adjusted at the farm site, but the settings may not get the attention in the field that they deserve,” Drissel said. “Producers will spend hours, even days adjusting their combines — which is important. They need to spend a little time looking at their machines in operation within the field.”
If you don’t set up the machine correctly, it may pull too forcefully or too weakly. This might result in inconsistencies in the seedbeds or a berm that is too flat or too tall.
“It can be very difficult for the operator to see all of the components from the cab of the tractor and the operation of the tool; therefore, it’s very important that a person on the ground view the machine while it’s at proper speed and depth,” Drissel added.
“Some of the things to watch for include being level front to rear and side to side, the front coulters cutting the residue, observing the row cleaners moving residue, the closing discs moving soil, the baskets sizing clods and the firming of the berm. Similar to a combine, make only one adjustment at a time and observe that adjustment in operation.
“It’s important to understand that making one adjustment can have an impact on another area of the machine, so some settings may need to be re-checked after all adjustments are made.”
Don’t Veer From Recommended Speeds
Nick Jensen of Thurston Manufacturing said that agriculturalists often don’t stick to the recommended speeds.
“Most farm implements come with a recommended operating speed, and most operators tend to ignore the recommended operating speed,” Jensen said. “If you do this with a strip-till applicator, no part of the strip-till implement will run properly.”
Too slow, and the blade won’t be spinning at the right speed to cut correctly. Also, residue won’t get cleared out correctly, the soil won’t be stirred well, the hill won’t be filled properly, and clods won’t break up and be leveled well. Too fast and residue may be flung back onto other rows on the field and fertilizer might be unevenly distributed.
“Operate the machinery at the manufacturers’ recommended operating speed and make sure you have a tractor with enough horsepower to pull the implement at the recommended operating speed without cheating on depth,” Jensen said.
“If you’re unable to complete your strip-till in the fall without exceeding the recommended operating speed, consider getting a strip-till implement with a wider swath width, running multiple strip-till implements or finishing in the spring.”
Consider Your Approach
President of Twin Diamond Industries, Dean Carstens, said that agriculturalists should not consider the strip-till as simply a tilling option.
“The consequences of thinking that all strip-till is just another piece of metal will deprive the farmer of the true profit potential,” Carstens said.
He said that most often, farmers make the mistake of thinking that a strip-till will just get through anything.
“Trash management behind the combine is extremely critical,” Carstens also said. “Uneven distribution of residue creates nightmares for the strip-till and planter operators. Avoid hairpinning of residue by investing in a chopper/spreader for your combine.”
Tips on Matching your Machines
CEO of Environmental Tillage Systems Mark Bauer warned farmers about trying to match strip-till machines and planters.
“Trying to match a 12-row planter with a 12-row strip-till machine can result in a mismatch, if the tractor is not large enough to handle the size of the strip-till machine,” said Bauer, having experience with strip-tills on his own farm.
“This can result in not achieving the proper depth of tillage. Also, this can result in limiting the tractor’s ability to handle the strip-till machine in less-than-favorable conditions, such as an early snowfall.”
Derek Allensworth of Yetter Manufacturing said that strip-till machines are different and have to be adjusted to get what you want out of them.
“Depending on soil types, field conditions, fall or spring strip-till, crop rotations, speed, depth, desired strip width or height, fertilizer being placed or type of knife being used, these all are items the farmer needs to consider when setting the equipment for the desired strip or berm,” he said.
2. Get Guidance
With all this confusing information, it is best to invest in people who can guide you along your journey of incorporating the strip-till equipment into your farm usage.
“When the grower decides to make the step to strip-till, they need to consider incorporating a quality guidance system into the program from the beginning,” Brillion’s Wallander said. “This is a major investment, but the payback will be very generous.
“Many growers who started out without a guidance system have later made the investment and wish they had done it sooner.”
Peterson of Orthman’s said, It is essential to have GPS to properly strip-till, fertilize and use the same rows each spring.
“We’ve seen recent research that found the placement of fertility has great implications on growth and potential yield. In Oklahoma, Nebraska and Colorado, separate projects found that planting 8 inches off of center from where the fertilizer was placed caused diminished stands and a 30-bushel drop in continuous-corn yields,” Petersen said.
“In high-residue conditions, if residue blows around and covers the strip, it becomes difficult to see where to drive the tractor and planter. Seeding can be a great headache for growers without GPS repeatable guidance.
“Top-quality GPS guidance has become a powerful ally for the grower. Being able to come back onto a line where strip-tilling was done and the fertilizer was placed and wanting to turn the soil into a top-notch seedbed is what strip-tillers need at planting time.”
Buy Into Precision Technology
Jenson noted that a few farmers still insist on using row markers when GPS field mapping technology is available.
“Yield loss from missing the center of the strip-tilled row when planting has shown to be more dramatic than some might think,” Jensen said. “Yield loss can begin to occur when the seed is planted as little as 2 inches off center in a strip-tilled row and increases from there.
“Being off the row will affect germination, plant stand and root development. It can put unnecessary stress on a young plant during critical times of development.”
Embracing Srip-till = Embracing Technology Such as RTK
“That will enable users to match their 12-row planter with an 8-row or even a 6-row strip-till machine,” Bauer said. “Users should focus on matching their strip-till machine to the horsepower of their tractor, rather than to the size of their planter.”
3. Think About Soil Conditions
“Numerous customers are of the belief that all soil types and conditions will work the same,” Wallander said. “This is one area where equipment can come into the equation. Strip-till machines need to be versatile so different conditions can be met.”
Be Aware of Compaction Level
According to Peterson, some farmers might not note how deep the compaction layer is. This would result in the farmer running the strip-till too shallow, leaving compaction.
“Compaction limits intake of water, downward water movement, root development, drainage of the surface and yield,” Petersen said. “Producers need to dig observation holes in several areas of a field to determine where the compaction zone occurs, how thick it is, what depth the compaction zone’s bottom is and knowing what tool to use to alleviate the problem.
“When that is determined, adjust your shank to get under the compacted zone to shatter it; however, you don’t want to do that to the point that you cause it to explode and roll in front of the shank and cause huge clods, gaps and fissures. That can dry out the soil and create cavities that may cave in the soil, creating a rough seedbed that is up and down and rolling like a roller coaster ride.
“When tilled to the correct depth, the seedbed will turn out mellow after a winter season.”
Properly Manage Residue
For corn, it is best to strip-till new rows between the old rows instead of re-using last year’s rows, Follmer comented.
“This reduces plugging of the row units. Also, driving on top of last year’s corn rows reduces compaction,” he said.
Drissel takes this principal further saying that every piece of farm equipment from combine to spray applicators should be correctly managing residue.
“Producers may experience residue flow complications in areas of the field where the stalks were not managed properly by the header or residue was not evenly spread from the rear of the combine,” he said. “It should be verified that the combine is operating at the proper ground speed compared to the speed of the corn head.
“Knife rolls or fluted rolls, the rear chopper and the spreader should have worn parts replaced and be operating correctly.”
NOT For Wet Conditions
Some farmers may try to get their work done early, tilling in bad conditions that might be present directly before winter.
“If the soil is too wet, any strip-till applicator can cause sidewall smearing,” Jensen said. “The additional soil compaction effects from the sidewall smear and pulling heavy equipment over wet soil will very likely negate any gains in yield that strip-till would have provided.
“If compaction layers exist within your soil profile, you will rarely see any advantage to strip-till. Soil compaction must be alleviated in order for strip-till to work, so make sure you don’t cause compaction by strip-tilling in wet soil.”
Tony Randall of Redball said that farmers should keep in mind that using a strip-till is tilling the soil. Tilling wet might be worse than never tilling at all.
“If fall strip-tillage is being done, you almost always have a large window left to complete the strip-till pass, so let the soil dry,” he said.
Too Fine is Not Fine
Some agriculturalists let the soil remain too fine during autumn, Bauer said.
“After fall tillage, the soil should be coarse,” he said. “The zone should be capped by a 4- to 5-inch mound of chunky, rough soil. The coarse soil texture is needed to handle the weather.
“Rapid snow melt in the spring, when the ground is still frozen, can result in erosion in the zone when the soil has been worked to a fine texture and has been matted down. Further, if containment coulters leave a consistent cut down the side of the zone, a runoff channel can form, resulting in increased water erosion.”
Allensworth notes that many farmers are used to tilling in poor conditions.
“With strip-till, you have to remember that you are making next year’s seedbed and this is not the field where you will be making two or three passes next spring,” he said.
4. Fertility Management
Farmers who go for an autumn strip-till run to get more nitrogen, make in more likely that nitrogen will leach beyond where the roots can reach.
That a potential waste of thousands of dollars when fertilizer is lost beyond what the growing crop can access. Each implement pass in the field adds cost and with fertilizer, it’s expensive,” Petersen said. “This is an issue for those who want to apply large quantities of anhydrous in the fall.
“With nitrogen costing $1,100 per ton, applying single shots at 200 pounds per acre is courting disaster and monetary loss.”
The better approach is to give nitrogen doses to each individual crop. This give the agriculturalist the chance to check leaf and soil samples to see exactly how much is needed and where. He or she may find out that 200 pounds of nitrogen was never needed, thus saving money.
Giving crops smaller, more direct applications of nitrogen throughout the growing season opens up a lot of opportunities for the farmer. He or she can choose between anhydrous or varying formulations of liquid, nitrogen with added sulfur or phosphates, as well as low-salt, stable or slow-release varieties of nitrogen ferilizer.
All of this, in turn, makes it so the farmer can be more efficient, lower costs, use fewer products and grow a better crop, according to Peterson.
Many times, farmers make the mistake of planting in soil that has too much ammonia, Carsten said.
“The opinions on the maximum amount of anhydrous ammonia to be applied are as varied as there are stars in the sky,” he says. “The general rule of thumb is the higher the ammonia rates, the higher the risks,” he said. “To avoid loss of stand, we suggest split-applying nitrogen.”
To demonstrate this, Carstens asks us to think about strip-tilling abput 100 pound of anhydrous ammonia with 6 to 9 gallons of 10-34-0. Giving both at the same time will make it so that anhydrous ammonia begins to spread. With higher nitrogen starters (2 by 2 by 2 wanting to dribble. A 30-10-1-0 liquid starter may be what is needed.
Different kinds of nitrogen supplements may come in the form of anhydrous ammonia in Sidedress, 28-0-0-5, slow release nitrogen, foliar feed nitrogen (for when Roundup is used’).
“By split-applying the nitrogen, considerable reductions in nitrogen can be taken,” Randall said. He also mentioned that many farmers mistakingly apply anhydrous ammonia too early.
“In fall strip-tillage, farmers must remember the window is there to wait for soil temperatures to cool before applying anhydrous ammonia,” he said. “If applied too early, expensive nitrogen might be lost. This is no different than fall-applied nitrogen using a standard toolbar system.”
Follmer also mentioned that many farmers only anhydrous ammonia, thus broadcasting both phosphorous and potassium.
“When doing this, they are missing out on the real savings of applying the P and K along in the strip. You can usually reduce your P and K rates in half. At the cost of P and K, a farmer can pay for a strip-till toolbar very quickly in savings,” Follmer said.
According to Bauer, when a farmer adds nutrients to the soil in the fall (such as phosphorous or potassium) evenly across a field, those nutrients will begin to be processed by microbes living in the soil.
“In addition, applying P and K in the spring can result in burning the seed from contact with P and K oxides from heavy salt fertilizers,” Bauer explained. “As much as a 40% higher utilization of the nutrients can be available for the plants, leading to higher overall yields. This can be even more important in low-fertility soils.”
Using a strip-till, some growers have done away with fertilizers all together.
“One of the primary advantages of strip-till is being able to place fertilizer in the root zone while creating a seedbed in a one-pass operation,” Jensen said. “If you’re not currently placing fertilizer with your strip-till applicator, you are missing out on roughly half of the advantages of using strip-till.”
Jensen recommends talking to local farmers to see who has used a strip-tiller and what kind of fertilizer program worked for them. Once you’ve done that, talk to an equipment dealer to see what add-ons can be used with your strip-till to apply fertilizers.
Many agronomists make the mistake of thinking that their fertilizer program will stay the same after they start using a strip-till. This is just not true.
“Not understanding the program could lead to over- or under-application of fertilizer, poor timing and many other adverse effects,” Carstens said. “The key to successful strip-tilling is to know where the fertilizer goes, when to apply, what to apply and how much to apply.
“To avoid the challenges, seek professional help and suppliers who can answer your questions with valid and confirmable information.”