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How to Strip-Till Successfully this Spring

Tips from manufactures to set up your rows right and apply fertilizer in the right areas and at the right depth.

Last fall was very wet, making it hard for some farmers to build strips right after harvesting.

Many farmers strip-till in the spring, but for those who schedule strip-tilling for autumn or do two passes, the wetness may require a change in plans.

Editors from Strip-Till Strategies got to pick the brains of manufacturers at Louisville’s 2015 National Farm Machinery Show. Here is their advice:

1. Adjust the Fertility Program

Every season you may have to make tweaks to your fertility program, but after a wet autumn, it is particularly important to adjust your strategy.

“For full spring application, you should watch your fertilizer rates,” Thurston Mfg.’s Nick Jensen said,“It may be better to make a partial nitrogen application, then come back with the planter and sidedress the second half to spoon feed the crop and avoid getting it too hot right under the seed zone.”

Take a look at some samples to know what you need, specifically.

“You should preplan your fertility program based on soil samples or mapping programs to ensure desired rates and formulas for optimal yield potential,” Orthman Mfg.’s sales manager, Justin Troudt said.

Of course, you could always turn to an agronomist to get some insight on rates.

“You have to figure out how much fertilizer you need to put on,” Joe Bassett, president of Dawn Equipment, said. “There are a lot of fertilizer questions because farmers want to apply a higher rate, but they might not feel comfortable doing so because of burn. Consulting your agronomist can help a lot.”

2. Take Care with Fertilizers

A good plan is only half the battle. Next, you need make sure your fertilizer goes where it needs to go.

“Don’t get your nitrogen levels too high and don’t get your salty fertilizer levels too high in the zone,” Kevin Kuehn, of Environmental Tillage Systems, said. “If you do have to apply those saltier fertilizers, make sure you put it down at least 5 inches, and get it out of the seed zone.”

There are some fertilizers that are more difficult to place correctly, like urea.

“The only major case of anyone burning their crop with fertilizer in the spring that we’ve had is with urea. Be cautious with it,” Bassett said. “It’s a lighter product that can be harder to get mixed and place properly.”

3. Calibrate Your Applicators

After you’ve spent so much time planning your fertilization program, make sure your careful planning doesn’t get wasted by having machinery that isn’t calibrated correctly.

“I suggest calibrating your drive fertilizer system and calibrating your liquid systems before spring,” Kuehn said. “You have to make sure what you anticipated putting on is what you’re actually putting on.

4. Be Careful With Shanks

Farmers need to be especially careful with shanks in the spring. They need to look at what effect they are causing on the soil.

“When you’re using a shank in the spring, just make sure to use a less aggressive knife or point than you would in the fall,” Jensen said. “You still want some of that explosion, but not so much that the basket can’t come up afterward to take some of the air pockets out.”

Each agriculturalist should know the soil their working with. It may be necessary to go deep with the shank.

“Some guys are afraid of the shank in spring, but we’ve got guys in Kentucky running deep,” LandLuvr’s Lyn Rosenboom said. “For some soils it might be the wrong thing, but I don’t think that a good shank is detrimental. Everyone has to know their soil.”

On the other hand, some situations may require removing the shank all together and just use coulters. How can you be sure whether to use a shank? Grab a shovel and investigate!

“You have to adjust to conditions,” Brigham Bros.’s George Mayo said. “If it’s getting too late and we are just ripping the slot, we’ll just run our unit without a ripper shank. I’d build a strip at full speed with the shank, take a trenching shovel and dig it out to see what kind of work you’re doing before deciding.”

5. Service Your Machine Before Spring

Spring is a busy time for farmers, so it’s best to be ready for that perfect tilling day when it comes.

“Make sure your machine is serviced before spring,” Kuehn said. “You’ll want to make sure all the grease points are good to go, and look for frame crack and things like that.”

Of course, preparedness is more than getting serviced. You must also adjust the row units.

“Make sure you have your equipment set for your conditions in the spring,” Yetter Mfg.’s Derek Allensworth said. “That might mean operating depth, levelness of the toolbar or setting the attachment that you are running in the spring for the placement of fertilizer.”

6. Update Your Software

With all this tuning up and soil checking, software updates easily slip the mind. But just imagine having a glitch in software, it would halt your work as quickly as a breakdown in equipment. Be sure that GPS software and product control monitors are all up to date, Kuehn encouraged.

“The first thing a tech will ask you when you have a problem in the field is what version of the software you have. Having the most recent updates saves time,” he said.

7. Basket Attachment is a Must

Those who till in the fall sometimes run without a basket. But if forced to till in the spring, the basket is a must.

“You’ll want to have a rolling basket in the spring,” says Jensen. “A lot of guys will run without one in the fall and say that the freeze/thaw cycle will take care of the strip and mellow it out. You’ll need a basket in the spring to push the berm down, take the air pockets out and crumble the soil.

8. Timing is Important

Starting the spring work early is important so that you have plenty of time to plant, but be wary of starting too early with overly wet soil.

“If you walk out there, dig down and pull out a big mud ball, it’s probably too early,” Allensworth said. “You want see a little of the soil being able to crumble — that should be your go gauge.”

Use your soil type to plan the timing of how quickly the planter needs to come after the row unit.

“With some of the clay soils like in western Ohio, you won’t want too much time between strip-tilling and planting,” Bassett said. “You need to get back out there and get it planted quickly, because it can turn to bricks on you if it’s left for too long. Typically people are following the planter within a single day.”

9. Manage Residue Accordingly

After winter, the trash and residue may have broken down a bit. Note this so you can build better strips.

“If you’re strip-tilling in the spring instead of the fall, you’ll have some residue breakdown because you’re not going right after the combine,” Jensen said. “You can usually set your residue manager a little less aggressively than you might normally. This will prevent that residue manager from digging too much, and if you have a heavy rain you won’t end up with divots.”

10.  Check Depth

Your farm’s location will probably determine how deep you run your tiller.

“I’d say to run shallower than you would normally,” Bassett said. “We usually strip-till in the spring anyway, and it’s just a fact of life for us in Illinois. Whether you are 2-3 inches in the ground, but you don’t even necessarily have to get that deep.”

Even if you live in an area where farmers normally strip-till in the fall, it is just as bad to strip deeply in the spring.

“In Minnesota we don’t have a lot of spring tillage because of what happens to the soil,” says Wayne Buck, sales manager of Hiniker. “If you leave a void from a strip-till shank that’s 7 inches deep and drop a seed in the bottom of that, it takes a long time to come up — it’s not pretty. One of the major advantages with strip-till from my perspective is emergence. I wouldn’t want to jeopardize that by going too deep in spring.”

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