By strip-tilling 16,000 acres of field corn and sweet corn, a farm in Washington state has cut field trips by 40% on its 60,000-acre potato-corn-wheat rotation.
Warren Mason, manager for Agri Northwest, in the Columbia River Basin, estimates that conservation tillage cut labor requirements by 50%, the number of tractors by 67% and the number of large tractors by 33% over 5 years.
Field Passes Drop With Strip-Till
Strip-tilling corn simplified the farm's production plan and requires fewer inputs, Mason says. It also saves a half-inch of soil water for each tillage pass eliminated, and reduces wind erosion at the seedling stage.
Reducing seedling damage from blowing sand eliminates the need to irrigate on windy days, and putting less water on the seedlings decreases the amount of seedlings that become waterlogged, he says. Residue from 240-bushel-per-acre corn and 160-bushel-per-acre wheat protects fields from erosion.
LESS WORK. By switching to strip-till for 16,000 acres of field corn and sweet corn, Agri Northwest cut field trips from 29 to 17 on its 60,000 acres of corn, wheat and potatoes in the Pacific Northwest.
By strip-tilling, the farm not only uses less labor, but also deploys its employees for more important tasks, Mason adds. It's also allowed Agri Northwest to increase the size of its farm units from 2,700 acres to 3,800 acres and improve profitability.
For strip-tilled field and sweet corn, wheat stubble is spread as evenly as possible and some straw is removed. The field is harrowed in the fall with a spring-tooth harrow at 8 to 10 mph to break straw into smaller pieces.
The corn is planted with a John Deere MaxEmerge planter preceded by an Orthman 1tRIPr strip-till rig.
Just ahead of the planter, 10-34-0 fertilizer is banded. Using GPS auto-steer makes all operations more efficient, especially when planting at night, he says.
Corn yields following wheat in strip-till haven't decreased, although May believes it's due to improvements in hybrids. But yields for strip-tilled corn on corn dropped 10 to 15 bushels per acre.
There are a number of challenges, including weed control, in corn after corn, Mason says, noting that there's been some increase in Russian thistle. Overall, herbicide rates were raised to label recommendations.
Cultivation is not possible because dammer-diking is still used, and because of the residue's value.
To manage an increase in cutworms, a pyrethroid insecticide is applied when corn is at the 2-leaf stage.