Strip-tiller Sheldon Stevermer and his brother, Chuck, of Easton, Minn., are reporting success after debuting strip-till practices on their Minnesota farm 8 years ago.

They began strip-tilling in stages, but have now adopted the practice on nearly 100% of their acres. They’ve noticed increased corn yields, better soil health and less erosion.

“The residue that strip-till leaves behind protects the soil and keeps it from blowing away in the spring and damaging corn seedlings...”

— Sheldon Stevermer

"We've noticed this year that the moisture levels are more consistent in our fields,” Sheldon says. “The soils take water better than they did under conventional tillage.

“And we don't have standing water in fields. They drain nicely. This year we planted into our strips before our neighbors, who don't even strip-till."

Some Useful Tips

Stevermer says that the weather and planting conditions where they farm in south central Minnesota are not nearly as severe as farmers 90 minutes north of him in the state.

"We've got it fairly easy. Being able to plant in the strips we make in the fall works well," he says.

There was still a lot of learning along the way to make strip-till succeed on their farm. Stevermer shared five tips about strip-till for growers to remember:

MORE RESIDUE. In addition to strip-tilling almost all of their corn, Sheldon Stevermer and his brother, Chuck, strip-till their soybeans. Strip-tilling leaves far more residue on fields compared to conventional tillage, says Sheldon, who farms near Easton, Minn. (Submitted photo)

1. Corn On Corn Fits. “I don’t know if I’d grow corn-on-corn any other way than with strip-till,” says Stevermer. “Moldboard plowing is best in some conditions, but the continuous, long-term effects can be hard on the soil.”

2. Benefits of Residue. “Soils with fine particles can really erode with conventional tillage,” he says. “The residue that strip-till leaves behind protects the soil and keeps it from blowing away in the spring and damaging corn seedlings.”

3. Better Soil. Stevermer says the improvement in soil health with reduced tillage is “immeasurable.”

4. Fall Works Best. “When possible, build berms in the fall,” he says. “This allows the residue to move off the berms during the winter.”

5. Outfit Your Planter Properly. The Stevermers use Dawn Curvetine closing wheels and GFX row cleaners on their 12-row John Deere 1760 planter. The GFX row cleaners are more expensive then conventional row cleaners but are valuable in a strip-till environment because they level the strip, allowing the planting unit to ride smoothly. “And the row cleaners move residue off the strips,” Stevermer says.

Find The Right Strip-Till Rig

Stevermer says he and his brother took baby steps in adopting strip-till by gradually adding fertilizing capabilities. They try to build berns that are 2 to 3 inches high in the fall.

“By spring, these berms settle down to 1 to 1½ inches high. They’re nice berms with mellow soil,” he says.

About 65% of their ground is in corn and 35% is planted to soybeans. Initially, they used a strip-till rig with mole knives, but switched to a strip-till rig with coulters. Last fall, the Stevermers switched to an eight-row Krause strip-till rig with 30-inch row spacing.

“Krause is using points that are a combination of an in-line ripper point and a parabolic shank,” Stevermer says. “The flat portion of the point lifts and fractures the soil. You can see where there is fracturing away from the strip, on both sides of the strip. I think that lifting action helps.

“Walking across fields this spring, I can see that the shanks did lift and fracture the soil across the strip-tilled zone.”

The Stevermers prefer to strip-till in the fall because their soils can be hard to work with in the spring.

“The less tillage you do, the better off your soils are,” he says. “Spring strip-till can work in our area if conditions are right.”

More Uniform Yields

GET TO THE POINT. Minnesota strip-tillers Sheldon Stevermer and his brother, Chuck, switched to a Krause strip-till rig for the fall of 2010. Sheldon likes the points on the rig that are a combination of an in-line ripper point and a parabolic shank. "The flat portion of the point lifts and fractures the soil,” he says. (Submitted photo)

The Stevermers say their soybeans yields are about the same by strip-tilling, but corn yields have increased. They’re applying half of their nitrogen in the seed zone and following up later with a sidedress application.

The yield response through strip-tilling has varied by field location and topography.

“When we used conventional tillage, we had very little residue on the eroded hills, and the organic matter wasn’t improving,” Stevermer says. “With strip-till, yields on the hills have increased.

“Before we started strip-tilling, yields were higher in low spots and lower on the top of the hills. Now, the overall yields in fields are better. You can see from the yield maps that the yields are more uniform throughout the fields.”

Strip-tilling leaves far more residue on fields compared to conventional tillage, which means soil will be a bit cooler in the spring, he says. But residue on hills and sandy areas helps hold more moisture.

“We irrigate a few of our fields,” Stevermer says. “Before we started strip-tilling, the areas on the quarter-section of land that didn’t get any water from the center-pivot irrigation system yielded about 125 bushels of corn per acre in a dry year.

“With strip-tilling, the corn yields are 170 to 180 bushels per acre. Strip-till not only conserves moisture, but protects the young corn plants from being blasted by flying particles of fine soil.”

Fine-Tuning Fertilizer Programs

With much of the work done to build strips on their farm, the Stevermers are now focusing on their fertilizer program.

Starting this fall, they plan to place a blend of nitrogen, phosphorus, potash and sulfur in the strip. Application rates will be based off of soil fertility tests and crop-removal rates.

They had been doing fall broadcasting of phosphate and potash and they also used a nitrogen-phosphorus-potash blend in furrow. The brothers were also placing 50% of their nitrogen and 100% of their sulfur pre-plant, then sidedressing the remaining nitrogen.

“For corn, we intend to zone-place some AMS, which contains nitrogen and sulfur, with some phosphorus and potassium in the fall,” Stevermer says. “Then we will apply some nitrogen, potassium, potash, sulfur and micronutrients with the planter in a 2-by-2-inch placement. We plan on sidedressing the remaining nitrogen.”

The Stevermers plan on planting their soybeans in the same fertilized zone as the previous year’s corn, and they’re evaluating various methods that will allow them to do that.