For more than 20 years, a less-is-more approach has defined the strip-till operation of Iowa farmer Kyle Schminke. He got his start working with Shellsburg, Iowa, farmer Homer Showman and today strip-tills about 1,000 acres of corn and no-tills 1,000 acres of soybeans.
Loyal no-tillers since the early 1980s, Schminke says they moved to strip-tilled corn in 1989 to help the soil warm up faster ahead of planting.
“Our biggest benefit with strip-till is that it helps get our soil ready for planting earlier by tilling just a 6-inch zone,” Schminke says. “I like that I can get out into our fields a day earlier than some of our neighbors who use conventional tillage practices.”
Coming from no-tilled corn, Schminke says they are getting better seed placement in strip-till as technology has evolved, and also giving plants the easiest access to their nitrogen source.
Simple, But Effective Equipment
Schminke prefers to build fall strips and uses a rented 16-row DMI strip-till unit from New Century Farm Service. He likes the convenience of renting the machine from the same outlet he purchases his anhydrous ammonia. Plus, Schminke says, it’s more economical and easy to use than investing in a brand new unit.
Photo courtesy of Kyle Schminke
“I’ve looked into owning a strip-till unit, but I like the simplistic setup on the DMI bar, and it matches up with my 16-row Kinze planter,” he says. “With my Case IH Magnum 315 tractor, I’m not sure I could pull much more than what I use now, and I’m not looking to invest in a higher horsepower tractor.”
Schminke uses Ag Leader Technology’s Integra display and RTK guidance to control strip-till, planting and spraying operations. But the DMI unit is as basic as they come, with an anhydrous knife and two closing discs on each row unit.
Schminke says he would like to add closing baskets to the unit, because he’s been forced to strip-till in the spring in the past, and the attachment would do a better job breaking up soil clods.
One recent equipment modification Schminke did make for fall strips was switching out the anhydrous knives on the bar for his own set.
“Our biggest problem was that if we’d strip-till in late fall, our knives would frost up and pull up root balls and create a poor trench or leave that area susceptible to erosion,” Schminke says. “So this past year, I purchased what are called frost-less knives from a local supplier. They are similar in design to the traditional anhydrous knife, but instead of a pipe to deliver the nitrogen, they have brackets on the back, which hold a hose in place.
“The setup was much more consistent and I didn’t have one root ball or freezing issue. There wasn’t any buildup and I think they helped create a better seedbed.”
It takes about an hour for Schminke to swap out the knives on the unit, which is time well spent given that they’ve improved efficiency building strips.
“There are 2 bolts I loosen with an air wrench and the fertilizer hoses pop out and snap back into place,” he says. “The only consideration is to make sure the hoses are clean, otherwise that can lead to clogging.”
While he makes the most of a simple system on the strip-till unit, Schminke is more particular with his planter setup. He doesn’t apply fertilizer with the planter, but the row units have Kinze’s row cleaners, no-till coulters, Keeton seed firmers, Martin Spading-Closing wheels and drag chains.
“I have all the toys on the planter, because to me, that’s my most important piece of equipment,” he says. “The only difference with my planter setup for no-till, is that I’ll set the trash whippers as high as they can go with strip-till so they barely touch the top of the strip and won’t disturb that seedbed.”
In the past, Schminke typically applied all of his nitrogen in the fall strips with an N-Serve stabilizer from Dow AgroSciences. But for the last 3 years, he’s experimented with a split-application.
Photo courtesy of Kyle Schminke
Schminke applies 100 pounds per acre of anhydrous with the strip-till rig in the fall, then sidedresses 7½ gallons per acre of 32% N (mixed with 7½ gallons per acre of water), as a burndown for his cereal rye cover crop. He then spreads 100 pounds per acre of coated urea when corn stalks are about 2 feet tall.
“I’ll adjust that amount depending on how the crop looks at that point in the year, and I’d like to incorporate more liquid N into my program,” he says. “I’m hoping to work with a friend with a Hagie sprayer to apply 32% and am looking into using Ag Leader’s OptRx crop sensors that can measure N needs.”
To further fine-tune N needs, Schminke is establishing a baseline of soil samples to assess N carryover and availability for the crop. This past year, he pulled one core sample in the spring, and every 2 weeks came back to the same spot and took those cores to see how much N was in the soil.
Schminke says he won’t make any radical decisions based on the first year’s data, but his ultimate goal is to build confidence that his plants will be able to access nutrients when they need them through better management practices and analysis.
“When I used to apply that full shot of N in the fall, I needed that stabilizer because it needed to be there in June, July, August and even September,” he says. “Now, with the split application, I really only need it for May and June, and I figure it’s not going anywhere. Considering what I may spend on N-Serve, I feel I’m better off making that calculated third application in summer, if I’m going to spend the money.”
Schminke variable-rate spreads potash and diammonium phosphate (DAP) in the fall, based on soil tests. While he hasn’t been able to cut back on input costs, Schminke is getting more targeted placement of his P&K.
“I don’t see any purpose to over-fertilizing,” he says. “My objective is to only apply what is necessary.”
Uncovering Soil Health
Three years ago, Schminke began incorporating cover crops into their strip-till operation. He initially experimented with radishes and turnips, but has had the most success with cereal rye to help preserve nitrogen and feed the soil.
He drills about a bushel per acre of the cover crop into soybean stubble immediately after harvest with a Case IH SDX40 Air Drill on 15-inch spacings. Schminke then strip-tills into the rye and does a spring burndown, preferably 6 to 10 days ahead of planting.
“When we have an 8- to 10-inch matt of rye in the spring, it’s just beautiful,” he says. “But we’ll go back in August and it’s all gone because our earthworms pulled it all down below the soil surface.”
Schminke is proactive in getting the cover crop killed before it’s 6 inches tall, because he doesn’t want to risk losing N. Another point of emphasis is monitoring the cereal rye, which is susceptible to armyworms.
“We haven’t had a problem with them, but we’ve applied some Warrior Insecticide with our burndown application as a preventive measure,” he says.