The equipment preferences of strip-tillers can be as diverse as the many different toolbar and row-unit combinations offered by manufacturers.
The 2nd annual Strip-Till Benchmark Operational Study shows there’s no universally perfect setup, and strip-tillers often tinker and test a range of equipment styles to find the ideal fit for their operation.
This sentiment is reinforced by the variety of row-unit setups used by strip-tillers throughout the U.S. A shank system remained the most popular setup, with 46.6% of strip-tillers preferring this style, compared to 44.1% of respondents in the 2014 survey.
The second most common setup is mole knife at 45.0%. This is a significant increase from the 33.8% of strip-tillers who utilized this setup in 2014. Ranking third in 2015 was the coulter-style setup at 35.4%, slightly below the 38.2% who utilized the system last year.
While some strip-tillers prefer multiple styles of row-unit setups to accommodate spring or fall field conditions, it will be interesting to see if farmers continue to favor mole knives above other row unit options, potentially to minimize soil disturbance and help contain anhydrous ammonia applications in strip through creation of a “mole hole” beneath the strip.
30-Inch Rows Rule
Despite the diversity in row unit preferences, strip-tillers are more uniform in their use of 30-inch rows on their operation. This year, 95.9% prefer this spacing, down only slightly from the 97.2% of respondents to the 2014 survey.
While the trend in the farm equipment industry is bigger and faster, the majority of strip-tillers continue to prefer modest-sized strip-till rigs and tractors to pull them.
A 12-row strip-till rig remained most popular, with 46% of farmers using this size of equipment on their operation. This is a slight increase compared to 2014, when 42.9% said they ran 12-row units.
Farmers are using a little more tractor horsepower to pull their units, compared to 2014. The average horsepower increased from 278 to 310 this year. This could be in part because a slightly higher percentage of strip-tillers are pulling larger rigs.
This year, 28.7% of growers are using 16-row strip-till rigs, compared to 25.7% in 2014. There was also a small increase in the percentage running 24-row machines, from 4.3% in 2014, to 5.4% this year.
On the flip side, there are fewer small strip-till rigs being run by survey respondents. About half as many strip-tillers (7.6%) are using 6-row machines as last year (15.7%), although there was a minor increase in farmers using 8-row machines, from 11.4% in 2014 to 12.4% this year.
The style and size of strip-till rig farmers use depends on their soil conditions, cropping system, residue-management needs and geographical location. In other words, there isn’t a consensus among farmers on one brand of machine.
Last year, 18.5% of respondents said they used a model of strip-till rig not manufactured by one of the major suppliers or used a “homemade” machine. However, this year’s data reveals some shifts in what types of strip-till rigs farmers are using.
The most notable change is at the top of the list, where 22.6% of respondents cited Kuhn Krause as the brand of strip-till rig they use. This is more than double the percentage over 2014 (10%).
Use of last year’s top brand, John Deere, saw the most substantial drop, from 15.7% to 7.3%. Rounding out the top 5 most popular strip-till rigs, according to the 2015 survey, are Case IH/DMI (15.9%), compared to 12.8% last year, Dawn Equipment/Pluribus (12.2%), up from 8.5% in 2014, Thurston/Blu-Jet (11%) vs. 7.1% last year, and Orthman (8.5%), which was the same as 2014.
View from the Top
Taking a closer look at the equipment setups used by high-yielding strip-tillers, there are several patterns that were identified.
For row-unit setups, 34.1% prefer a mole knife, the most popular option, while an additional 11% use a combination of mole knives and either shanks or coulters. The majority of the top strip-tillers using mole knives in their operation, 36.4%, are located in the Eastern Corn Belt.
Another 27.3% prefer a shank-style setup, while less than 1% only use a coulter system on their row units, or a combination of coulters and shanks.
The size of strip-till rig top growers use is consistent with the overall group. The vast majority use a 12-row machine (61.4%), while another 25.0% run 16-row rigs.
As was the case with the overall group, there is no overwhelming preference for one brand of strip-till rig among top strip-tillers, and several respondents run multiple machines on their operation.
The most popular rig is Kuhn Krause (22.7%), followed by Case IH/DMI (20.5%) and Orthman (15.9%).