Fountain, Minn., crop and livestock farmer Paul Hamann and his son, Corey, managed a successful start in strip-till by building their own rigs.

The move to strip-till paid off, because switching to strip-till for continuous corn increased yields at least 5 to 10 bushels per acre,

Hamann, who began strip-tilling in 2010, says that’s a conservative estimate. He no-tilled corn for about 10 years, but says it emerged slowly and when he saw earlier emergence some strip-tillers were getting with their corn, he decided to try a new practice.

“With no-tilled corn-on-corn, you didn’t have an ideal seedbed and there was a variance in emergence,” Hamann says. “After looking at strip-tilled corn, I decided that switching was a no brainer. Why wouldn’t you?”

Building A Rig

Hamann grows about 120 acres of corn, 20 to 30 acres of soybeans and 60 to 70 acres of alfalfa, and has 50 brood cows. He also sells seed for Dekalb and Asgrow.

Hamann first built a four-row strip-till rig with 36-inch spacings, which they used for spring strip-till in 2010 and 2011.

For the 2011 growing season, Hamann and his son, Corey — who’s studying agricultural industries and marketing at the University of Minnesota — also built a 12-row strip-till rig with 30-inch spacings. For this unit, they bought a used Hiniker toolbar and cut it in two places to shorten it by 30 inches, then re-sleeved and welded the heavy toolbar. The Hamanns mounted 12 Yetter 2984 Maverick HR Plus row units on it and purchased an Elk Creek fertilizer caddy with a 30-ton lift.

“We saved about $10,000 by buying the used toolbar and spent another $2,000 building it, not counting the cost of the Yetter Maverick row units,” Hamann says. “We also bought a used 6-ton Montag dry fertilizer cart with a Raven 6000 system and a scale. All told, we spent about $49,000 on this strip-till rig, which is about half of what it would cost new.”

For guidance, the Hamanns use Deere’s GreenStar SF1, but plan on using RTK in 2013. They pull the 12-row strip-till rig, with the Montag cart, with an 8970 New Holland tractor with 240 horsepower.

“The tractor handles the job of pulling this unit really well,” Paul Hamann says.

For the 2011 growing season, Hamann bought a 12-row Kinze 2000 planter with 36-inch spacings. The planter has residue managers.

Better Hybrids

Paul Hamann looks for the same characteristics in hybrids for strip-tilling continuous corn that he did for no-tilling.

“You want a plant with good seedling vigor and emergence scores,” he says. “With strip-till, you have an advantage over even conventional tillage because the berm is higher and warmer.

“About 2 weeks ago, we had an inch of rain and 36 hours later, the soil in the berm was black, warm, mellow and dry. But for everyone else who wasn’t strip-tilling corn, having to plant into wet fields wasn’t pretty.”

Hybrids have much better emergence and seedling growth than they did years ago, Hamann adds.

“Today’s hybrids get from emergence to V10 so much faster these days and that’s important for strip-tilled and no-tilled corn, especially for corn-on-corn,” he says.

Fertilizer Program

In the ongoing debate about whether it’s best to band or to broadcast phosphate and potash for strip-till, Hamann sees benefits of doing both.

“In the fall here in Minnesota, you can’t put down urea, but I do think using a percentage of urea for your nitrogen program makes sense,” Hamann says. “Early in the year, when the ground is still frozen, we have an ag retailer broadcast nitrogen with some AMS using variable-rate technology. When the ground is fit we build our strips, applying DAP and potash.”

Hamann has about 50 pounds of AMS broadcast and bands another 50 pounds, along with DAP, about 5 inches deep with the strip-till rig.

“The DAP has about 18 units of nitrogen,” he says. “And I sidedress around 30 units of nitrogen, knifing in 28% liquid nitrogen with a coulter rig. In all, I apply 180 to 200 pounds of nitrogen for my yield goal of at least 200 bushels per acre.”

At this point, the Hamanns are not variable-rate applying phosphate and potash when strip-tilling because it would require them to upgrade their system, including the motor in their Montag cart.

“I tell farmers who want to variable-rate apply fertilizer to have the ag retailer broadcast phosphate and potash where it’s needed,” he says.

Hamann also believes that DAP and AMS can definitely help corn emerge more quickly, even when soil tests say there’s more than enough phosphorus and potassium in the soil. For example, in 2011 Hamann applied about 60 units of phosphate and 60 units of potash AMS in a field near a barn where manure had been hauled years ago.

On this field, Hamann used the four-row strip-till rig and every so often, there were places where the lever on the Gandy Orbit-Air kicked out and the DAP and AMS didn’t get applied.

“The corn there emerged more slowly and was shorter and tasseled a week later in these spots,” Hamann says. “But everywhere else, the DAP and AMS jump-started the early-season growth. It was so unbelievable that all season long you could see where the DAP and AMS were not applied in the band, close to the seed.”

A Custom Solution

The Hamanns also decided that offering custom strip-tilling to customers would be a good way to complement their seed business.

“With all of the co-ops offering a wide variety of services, we felt this was one way we could provide a unique service to our customers,” Corey Hamann says. “We’re confident that farmers will see improved emergence and seedling health, especially if we face any adverse conditions this spring.”

The Hamanns custom strip-tilled about 500 acres this spring and plan to do more this fall and next spring.

“We've found that the farmers in our area are willing to test this new method on a field or two to see how it works compared to their current practices,” Corey Hamann says. “If this takes off like we think it could, we plan to integrate a variable-rate system into our future machines and possibly build a 16-row strip-till machine.”