You might call Jay Petty a pioneer, of sorts. The Pasco, Wash., farmer is the first in his area to try strip-tilling, but apparently it’s catching on.
After he bought a strip-till rig last year, three of his neighbors bought strip-till rigs as they searched for ways to save time, money and fuel.
“In the upper part of the Columbia Basin, there’s been strip-tilling going on for a few years,” he says. “It’s new in this area.”
Petty farms in sandy soils and his fields are somewhat flat to rolling. Residue from the previous year’s corn crop posed a formidable challenge for him. The low humidity and rainfall in the Columbia Basin also means residue breaks down far less quickly than in the Corn Belt, Petty says.
“Because we raise so much corn and have lots of residue we’ve got to get it to break down,” he says. “The corn is custom combined with a Deere combine and StalkMaster chopping corn head. I want to knock down the corn stalks.”
CORN ON CORN. After studying area farmers who strip-tilled, Jay Petty of Pasco, Wash., started strip-tilling last spring in corn-on-corn. Just 6 inches of rain falls in the area each year, so irrigation is essential.
Standing corn stalks act like snow fences, which has pluses and minuses, he says. The corn stalks catch residue blowing around in fields, but they also shade the ground.
“I would like to lightly till the old strips to pin the residue to the ground, and to also speed the residue’s breakdown,” Petty says. “There’s a lot of fertilizer in that residue and you don’t get it back in the soil until it breaks down. And too much residue insulating the ground will not let the soil warm up.”
The Right Machine
After looking at strip-till rigs in action and visiting with area strip-tillers, Petty bought a used strip-till rig in 2011 and tried it for the first time this spring. But finding the correct unit for his farm took some time.
When he was ready to shop, Petty worked with a local Deere salesman and looked at an Orthman 1tRIPr. Then the salesman took him to see Jordan Bennett, a strip-tiller from Hermiston running an an 8-row 1tRIPr.
Bennett has been strip-tilling for about 5 years and now uses a 12-row 1tRIPr for a one-pass system of strip-tilling and planting grain corn, as well as double-crop sweet corn after peas.
Petty was impressed with the ruggedness of the 1tRIPr with its shank system, and how it handled corn-on-corn residue. He saw that strip-tilling double-crop sweet corn after peas worked well for Bennett, saving 2-3 trips with the 1-pass strip-till-and-plant system.
“I wanted a shank-style strip-till machine to break up the compaction in the fields where I run cows on in the fall,” Petty says.
He eventually bought a used 8-row 1tRIPr from Kansas that is configured to 30-inch spacings.
This spring, Petty used the 1tRIPr for sweet corn planted after peas, and for high-moisture grain corn that he grows for local beef feedlots. The unit is outfitted with Sunco row cleaners and he’s set up with a Trimble RTK system.
Petty recently traded his Deere tractor for a Deere 8430T track tractor. He also has a Deere 8110.
“I can plant with either tractor,” Petty says. “Having both the 8110 and the 8430T gives me flexibility.”
In the spring, he strip-tills with one pass and then plants corn in another pass. He does spring strip-till because strip-tilling corn-on-corn in the fall won’t work, he says.
“The corn stalks will plug up in the strip-till rig,” he says. “We have too much residue.”
By using a two-pass system of strip-till and corn planting, the soil has time to warm up, Petty says.
When building strips, Petty bands 20 gallons per acre of 25-0-0-3 with the 1trRIPr. And he bands another 10 gallons per acre with a 16-row Deere 1720 planter with 30-inch spacings.
Petty grows 106- to 111-day relative maturity, corn-for-grain hybrids. He had planted 115-day hybrids, but didn’t see a yield benefit from the longer maturity. He plants roughly half conventional and half Roundup Ready hybrids.
“My yield goals are 280 to 300 bushels per acre for high-moisture grain corn and 10 tons per acre for double-crop sweet corn,” he says.
HEAVY RESIDUE. With little rainfall and low humidity in the Columbia Basin of Washington, corn stalks break down far more slowly vs. the Corn Belt, Petty says.
All of Petty’s strip-tilled corn is corn-on-corn, which he’s comparing this year to conventionally tilled corn. Petty says the conventional tillage he does is pretty minimal: In most years, it’s two passes with a Wishek disc. Sometimes he makes three passes with the disc.
Petty says the corn residue isn’t returning as much phosphorus and potassium to the soil as he’d like, so depending on the fertility needs of fields he spreads composted dairy cow manure every few years on each field.
Petty also runs cows on corn stalks in the fall. This past spring, he strip-tilled two center-pivot circles that he didn’t run cows on last year.
Doing What Work
While no-till works in many places in the Columbia Basin in the Pacific Northwest, no-tilling corn-on-corn doesn’t, Petty says. That’s why he turned to strip-till.
“My goal isn’t no-till. It’s reduced tillage,” he says. “I run the strip-till rig as aggressively as possible because I want the barest strip that I can have. We get 2,500 growing-degree units and I’ve got to capture every unit as much as possible.”
Just 6 inches of rain falls where Petty farms and most of that rain comes in the fall. He relies 100% on irrigation, and he doesn’t even figure in the rainfall into crop production. But with irrigation, Petty knows he’s going to be able to grow a corn crop.
“If I need to spend $50 an acre more to get $200 more per acre from increased yields, I’m going to do it,” he says.