When weeks go by with less than an inch of rain, no tillage system magically makes crops grow and fill ears and pods.

But it’s clear this year that strip-till conserved more moisture than multiple tillage passes before planting last spring, as well as vertical tillage last fall, says Niota, Ill., strip-tiller Brent Schmitz and Yetter Mfg. regional sales manager Andy Thompson.

Schmitz farms with his father, growing corn and soybeans. They strip-till about half of their corn that’s in a corn-soybean rotation, but they don’t strip-till continuous corn.

Brent owns Schmitz Ag Products, which sells ag chemicals, along with Yetter equipment. He also custom builds strip-till rigs.

In this drought year, Schmitz says he’s noticed differences between crops.

“As a general rule, doing less tillage allowed the soil to conserve moisture,” he says. “It reduces evaporation. Corn-on-corn in this area is looking a lot worse than corn following soybeans. It might be due to extra tillage, as many people in this area will chisel, disc, apply anhydrous and make one or two leveling passes before planting. Compared to strip-tilling, that’s four extra passes.”

Schmitz says that in addition to soil drying out from four extra tillage passes, disease may have caused problems in corn-on-corn.

“One of the key moisture-saving advantages with strip-till vs. vertical tillage is that you aren’t drying out the entire field 2 inches to 4 inches deep,” Thompson says. “With strip-till, there’s about 20 inches of residue covering the soil between the tilled strips. The soil in the strip is dry, but it’s moist under the residue.”

But regardless of tillage systems, rain has been virtually non-existent where Schmitz farms, about 15 miles from the Mississippi River.

“We’re in a drought-stricken area,” he says. “We were on the low side of adequate rainfall up to Father’s Day. Since then, we’ve had less than 2 inches of rain on some of our farms. About 7 to 10 days ago, a storm 1 mile long and 6 miles wide came through. I got two-tenths of an inch of rain. My grandpa, who lives a mile and a half from me, got 1½ inches.”

Strong Strip-Till Interest

Both Schmitz and Thompson participated in the fifth annual residue management field day held July 17, south of Carthage, Ill. Schmitz demonstrated his custom-built 12-row strip-till rig with 30-inch spacings that uses Yetter Maverick HR Plus row units.

Since its start 5 years ago, the field day has showcased residue-management tools, including strip-till and vertical tillage machines.

“Over the years it seems that this event has declined in strip-till demonstrators and increased dramatically the number of vertical-tillage demonstrators,” says Thompson. “In fact, this year there was only two strip-till machines and 13 vertical-tillage machines. But it appeared to me that there were many more people impressed and interested in the strip-till than ever before.”

Schmitz pulls his strip-till rig with a Case MX 305 tractor with 305 horsepower. He uses the Case IH Pro 600 guidance system with Omnistar.

Thompson says it took a few hours to adjust the strip-till rig for the field day, where the tillage tools ran in unbaled, standing wheat stubble that was 12 to 18 inches tall, Thompson says.

“The Maverick HR Plus row units have a lot of adjustability,” he says. “Users can make adjustments to set the depth, row-unit down pressure, residue-manager depth and the infinitely adjustable disc sealers.

When working in heavy wheat stubble, it’s very important to allow the disc sealers to only work in the cleared path of the residue manager while setting the discs to create a "rooster tail" of soil which creates the mellow, even strip, Thompson says. 

STRIPPED WHEAT. Strip-tilling into unbaled wheat stubble that stands 12-18 inch high seems like a tall order, but 12-row strip-till rig that Brent Schmitz custom-built performed well at a July residue management field day in western Illinois.

(Photo courtesy: Andy Thompson, Yetter Mfg.)

“Brent’s 12-row strip-till rig worked phenomenally well and made nice, clean strips,” he says.

Schmitz was pleased with the performance of his strip-till rig at the field day, noting that tall, standing unbaled wheat straw is a tough challenge.

“First and most importantly, the strips were basically totally free of residue,” he says.  “Secondly, the soil worked up nicely without clods or air pockets, so if it was planted, you would have a good ride with your planter and no air pockets to reduce seed to soil contact.

“By having a nice worked strip in the spring you will get earlier soil temperature warmup and if it’s necessary, that area will dry quicker. Soil warmup can be a problem in minimum tillage.

Fall Strip-Till

Thompson and Schmitz say it’s too early to know what weather and soil moisture conditions will be this fall. But strip-tillers can consider how they may need to adjust if the drought conditions continue.

UNIFORMITY. Strip-tillers should aim for uniformity in the strips they make this fall because they're building next spring's seed bed, says Andy Thompson, Yetter Mfg. Co. regional sales manager.

“Getting anhydrous ammonia sealed in the soil will be an issue, if there’s not enough moisture,” Schmitz says. “If there’s subsoil moisture, but the soil is dry on top, you’ll need to move the closing wheels in closer together. That’s something you can do with the HR Mavericks and get a good seal with the anhydrous ammonia.”

Thompson says strip-tillers should aim for uniform, residue-free strips.

“If you find a large cavity at the bottom and a slot up on the top, that will make a poor seed zone,” he says. If you’re going to strip-till, remember that you’re building your seed zone.  The strip should be free from residue so there’s good seed-to-soil contact when you plant corn.

Uniformity within the strip is very important, Thompson says. 

“The whole point of moving to a strip till system is to create a more even seedbed across all your acres,” he says.  “If you make a mistake this fall it will follow all the way through next year's crop.”