After 7 years of strip-till, Shane Houck of Pennville, Ind., believes RTK is a necessity, strip-tilling in the fall is best and strip-tilling in the spring can work.

Houck began strip-tilling in the fall of 2003 after no-tilling corn into soybean stubble for years. Strip-till makes sense because of the large amounts of residue that high-yielding hybrids create.

Spring Strip-Till

Lousy, wet weather during the 2009 harvest prevented Houck from doing much strip-till. He has been using Yetter Manufacturing’s Maverick strip-till row units with a mole knife for fall strip-till. Last spring, Houck replaced the mole knife with Yetter’s double-coulter Vertical Tillage Attachment.

“We did about 500 acres with the Vertical Tillage Attachment,” he says. “It looked pretty good and corn planted well into the strips. But May and June were wet, wet, wet and July was dry, so the corn’s not looking so good because of the weather.”

Houck has been modifying and making farm equipment for more than 20 years. In the early 1990s, he made a hitch that connected two John Deere 750 no-till drills so they run side by side.

Dual-Purpose Toolbar

It makes sense, then, that Houck made a 24-row strip-till rig on 30-inch centers. The 60-foot-wide, front-folding toolbar is on Land Luvr rubber tracks. Houck says he licensed this design to Wil-Rich.

“We decided to use the rubber tracks on the frame because all brands of 24-row and larger planters on the market do not have much capacity for starter fertilizer,” Houck says. “We feel it is important to apply starter to our corn.

“Since the rubber tracks are expensive, we built the folding frame so we can interchange toolbars for strip-tilling and planting and get double use out of the frame and tracks. The toolbars have quick-attach brackets and can be changed in 1 to 2 hours.”

Houck typically plants 25 to 30 acres per hour, including refilling seeding and moving to other fields.

He can convert the strip-till frame to a 48-row soybean planter on 15-inch-spacing with tanks that hold 300 bushels of seed beans.

“We have another 24-row, 30-inch-spacing frame with 2,250 gallons of liquid-starter capacity and 75 bushels for central seed,” Houck says. “Once planting is complete, we convert this frame to a 24-row, 30-inch spacing sidedress implement.”

Strip-Till Benefits

Strip-tilling corn allows Houck to protect the soil, manage residue, warm up the soil in the spring and get corn off to a good start. It also helps him manage fertilizer costs.

“With the high price of fertilizer, to be able to band fertilizer is more efficient than broadcasting,” he says.

In 2009, corn planted into bands of fertilizer from strips made in the fall of 2008 yielded 9 bushels per acre more than corn planted into fall strips in fields with broadcast fertilizer, Houck says.

“Our soils are tight, but with strip-till, they dry out more quickly so we can plant sooner,” he says. “I’m planting 1 to 2 days sooner with strip-till. You have a little bit of soil where the residue is removed and the soil is warmer.

“I definitely think strip-till is paying off. The biggest issue, though, is that it takes an operator who knows what he’s doing because strip-till lays out the rows for planting next year’s corn. You have to use RTK — that’s one thing we’ve learned. If you don’t have RTK and relied on row markers, it would be difficult.”

But large strip-till rigs and planters need more than RTK GPS, Houck says.

“In 2009, we began using John Deere’s iGuide passive implement guidance system with the toolbar,” he says. “This helps steer the tractor in order to keep the strip-till bar and planter on track.”

When planting corn, Houck has a single residue manager wheel for each of the 24 row units, but he is thinking about switching to two residue manager wheels.

“We get so much ponding on our fields in the winter,” he says. “Then the residue floats up onto the strips in the spring.”

3 Keys To Strip-Tilling

Houck offers three suggestions to make strip-till work:

  1. “You’re going to need the RTK GPS system for repeatability,” he says.
  2. “There are many types of strip-till rigs, ranging from ones that go 6 inches to 12 inches deep. Some use a moleknife, while others like Dawn have double coulters. I use a moleknife in the fall.
  3. “I didn’t plan to strip-till in the spring, but I used the double-disc coulters from Yetter because I couldn’t get much strip-till done last fall.”