If the rain, ruts and soggy fields last fall make you think twice about strip-tilling this fall, Illinois strip-tiller Brent Schmitz offers some simple advice.

BE FLEXIBLE. Brent Schmitz, who strip-tills corn near Niota, Ill. says growers must be willing to make equipment adjustments when facing wet conditions, whether it's the depth of the strip-till knife, pitch of the closing blades or setting the residue managers.

“If you run into wet conditions again, don’t give up,” Schmitz says. He and his father, Kevin, grow corn and soybeans using strip-till and conventional tillage near Niota, Ill.

Despite his optimism and resolve, Schmitz quickly acknowledges that strip-tilling 400 acres with anhydrous ammonia last fall was tough.

“We were really just on the edge of whether we should have been strip-tilling or not,” he says. “We really had only two fields that were nice to strip-till. The rest were pretty marginal.”

Ask many strip-tillers to grade field and weather conditions last fall, and “F” probably would show up on many report cards. But you could give Schmitz an “A” for the adjustments he made to cope with the conditions last fall.

“The ability to make adjustments on a strip-till rig is very important. Different soil types and soil moisture require different adjustments,” says Schmitz, who began experimenting with strip-till about 4 years ago. “The depth of the strip-till knife, the pitch of the closing blades and the setting of the residue managers, which run in front of the knives, were all crucial last fall.”

Up-Front Management

Schmitz began using Yetter Manufacturing Company’s Maverick HR Plus residue managers last fall and was pleased with the adjustments he was able to make. When the fields were wet and sticky, he added more pitch to the closing blades and placed the anhydrous deeper.

“But the most important part of our strip-till rig is the residue managers up front,” Schmitz adds. “We didn’t have them before and we struggled making strips. The strips were a lot better to plant into this spring, after we made them last fall with the residue managers.”

While the Schmitzes typically place anhydrous 6 or 7 inches deep in the strip, that didn’t work last fall.

“Most of the time last fall, we went down 9 inches to get the anhydrous to seal,” he says.

Wet soils make strip-tilling difficult, says Andy Thompson, a sales manager for Yetter.

“Strip-till works because you get a churning of the soil,” Thompson says. “In good conditions, a knife — especially a mole knife — will do all of this action and nothing further is required. But in very wet conditions, the soil structure wants to hold together more, so you have to do whatever is necessary to create that churning action.

“In Brent’s case, he adjusted the depth and pitch of the knife, as well as adjusted the disc sealers to help create this churning action. In my opinion, this is why he was successful with his strip-tillage operation when many others were not.”

Overall, Schmitz was pleased with how corn planted into last fall’s strips fared this year. In he left part of a field for a check and no-tilled corn this spring.

“The strips didn’t look that great last fall,” he says. “But the corn came up 2 to 3 days earlier than the no-tilled, check field. And the biggest issue is how your strips come through the winter.”

The Schmitzes uses GPS guidance on their strip-till rig when injecting anhydrous, but they do not have guidance on their planter tractor. Building straight strips with guidance makes it easier to come back and plant the corn “freehand,” he says.