Some strip-tillers own toolbars and others hire a custom strip-tiller. But for many years, Atlanta, Ill., farmer Doug Thompson has used a fertilizer dealer’s toolbar that is set up for strip-till.

Some toolbars are set up better than others for strip-till, but overall, the rental units do just fine, says Thompson, a certified crop adviser and long-time no-tiller who currently chairs the Logan County Soil and Water Conservation District Board.

Thompson farms about 1,450 acres. This year, he has 720 acres of corn following beans, 80 acres of corn on corn and 650 acres of beans following corn.

His 5-year average for corn after beans is 190 bushels per acre (85% prairie soil and 15% timber soil.) His 5-year average for corn on corn is 199 bushels per acre (chisel plowed on his best soils) and the 5-year average for soybeans is 54 bushels per acre, all no-tilled.

New Anhydrous Bar

Thompson uses a Case IH 1200 16-31 split-row planter, which allows him to plant corn on 30-inch rows and soybeans on 15-inch row spacing. The planter has Yetter residue managers on the corn rows only. He removes the row cleaners before no-tilling soybeans.

The toolbar Thompson received for strip-tilling and applying anhydrous in the fall of 2010 was a newer DMI unit. He says it did a superior job of building ridges vs. ones he’s used previously.

While Thompson typically strip-tills in the fall, poor weather and a late harvest prevented that in 2009. In the spring of 2010, he decided to try something different and used a sidedress toolbar from AgLand FS to apply anhydrous ammonia before planting corn.

ACCURACY PAYS. Doug Thompson says the improvement in seed placement on his strip-till acres is noticeable after switching to RTK guidance.

“I sidedressed anhydrous between the rows where I would come back and plant the corn,” Thompson says. “I was concerned about burning the corn roots if I used the standard method of placing the ammonia under the corn row.

“With my RTK auto-steer, I knew exactly where the corn was going to be planted, so we could accurately place the ammonia to the side of that.”

The toolbar has a coulter, mole knife and covering disc on each row. Thompson says it’s similar to the other toolbars ag retailer rent to farmers, but it has heavier cover plates.

“The toolbar’s really nothing special,” he says. “The toolbar builds berms 4 to 5 inches high and 6 inches wide.”

RTK Critical For Success

Because these are relatively narrow strips — some strip-till rigs make strips as wide as 10 inches — RTK is essential for planting precisely, and it’s made a big difference for Thompson.

“For 3 or 4 years, we just tried driving the strips, eyeballing where we needed to plant, and it was OK,” he says. “Most of the time you were planting on the strip, but sometimes the sun would be in your eyes or the dust was blowing, and you just couldn’t see that strip well enough to drive accurately.”

There was at least a one-leaf difference in the growth stage between corn planted into the strip and corn planted out of it. He doesn’t know how much or yield it cost him, but he could see planting accurately makes a huge difference.

“The soil in the strip is just so mellow and warm,” Thompson says. “Those are ideal conditions to plant corn into. And you’ve got the nitrogen right under the seed.”

Strip-Tilling And Sidedressing

The strip-till bar Thompson uses in the fall has 16 rows, the same as his planter. The sidedress bars have been of various sizes — 7, 11 and 13 rows.

By using RTK autosteer, the rows are all spaced perfectly, he says, so the there’s little chance of corn injury if the sidedress bar doesn’t match the planter size.

Thompson only applies anhydrous when strip-tilling in the fall and doesn’t put down starter fertilizer with the planter in the spring.

Two years ago, he bought an Ag Leader Integra monitor, which he uses to variable-rate apply dry fertilizer.

During the past 15 years or more of variable-rate application, Thompson estimates he’s saved “an awful lot of money on fertilizer.”

During the fall and winter, he broadcasts all of his phosphorus, using variable-rate technology, and he buys dry fertilizer in bulk. He applies all of the phosphate one year, and the next he applies all of the potash, using a 2-year rate.

“This is a lot of spreading, but I don’t pay anyone else for the variable-rate application,” Thompson says. “For years and years, I used a fertilizer buggy from the dealer and they never charged me anything for it. Two years ago, I bought my own spreader and that’s been a big plus.”