Jay Riddell says his family's move to strip-till 7 years ago saved them time and money and boosted yields on their corn-and-soybean operation.

A GOOD DECISION. Bill Riddell (left) and son, Jay, moved to strip-till on their Illinois farm 7 years ago. They credit strip-till, precision technology and sidedressing nitrogen as the major reasons yield increased in both corn and soybeans last year.

The switch to strip-till on their farm at Sparland, Ill., 30 miles north of Peoria, has cut the number of tillage passes and reduced compaction. Additional efficiency has come with investments in RTK-based guidance.

"Before we started strip-tilling, we'd rip fields in the fall and then disc or field-cultivate them," says Jay Riddell, who operates the farm with his father, Bill. "In the spring, we'd work the fields again before planting it.

"Now, we can do as little as one pass in the fall with strip-till, putting on dry fertilizer and anhydrous. Then we plant in the spring and sidedress nitrogen."

Key Equipment Decisions

Last fall, Riddell strip-tilled 1,000 acres and custom strip-tilled 350 to 400 acres.

Riddell strip-tilled all of the farm's crop ground, except where their cattle overwintered. In addition to growing corn and soybeans, the family has a registered Polled Hereford operation, which dates back to 1916.

MAKING A SWITCH. After using a DMI toolbar to apply anhydrous in the fall, Jay Riddell and his father, Bill, bought an Orthman 1tRIPr to strip-till the increased corn-on-corn acres — and manage the bountiful residue — on their farm north of Peoria, Ill.

"This summer, we've had many compliments about our corn and soybeans," Jay says. "The corn looks particularly good, and I believe sidedressing liquid 28% nitrogen is part of the reason. Corn growers in this area rely heavily on fall-applied anhydrous ammonia, but as wet as it was in the spring and early summer, much of the fall anhydrous was lost."

Seven years ago, the Riddells began strip-tilling with a DMI toolbar that they used to apply anhydrous in the fall. But when they went to continuous corn, the Riddells bought an eight-row Orthman 1tRIPr with 30-inch spacing to be used in fall 2009.

They only strip-tilled 40 acres that fall because of wet weather and the lengthy harvest. The next spring, they removed the shanks from the toolbar and replaced them with two wavy coulters for each row.

They used the strip-till rig to create strips, but didn't apply any fertilizer with the strip-till pass. All of the nitrogen was sidedressed as liquid 28%.

The Riddells have been sidedressing liquid 28% nitrogen using a Fast toolbar that has a coulter followed by a small shank on each row. On large, straight fields, the Riddells fold out the tool bar to cover 24 rows per pass.

In summer 2010, the Riddells bought a 1330 Flexi-Coil air cart with a 3-point hitch to apply dry fertilizer. This converted the Orthman strip-till rig from a mounted bar to a pull-type by hooking it to the back of the fertilizer cart.

When they strip-till and put on dry fertilizer and anhydrous ammonia — all in the same pass — the Riddells attach the anhydrous tank to a hitch on the 1tRIPr.

"We're using a John Deere 8300, but more power would be nice to run a little deeper and a little faster," Riddell says. "Right now, we're running about 7 to 8 inches deep at about 5.5 mph."

Managing That Residue

Riddell doesn't like strip-tilling into fluffy corn residue in the fall, so after combining corn he waits for fall rain to settle the residue down.

"When we strip-till, we go down between the middle of the old corn rows," Riddell says. "The residue managers on the strip-till rig do a good job, so I really don't have a problem with lots of residue from corn-on-corn.

"We use a John Deere 1770 CCS 16-row planter with XP row units and screw-adjust Yetter SharkTooth residue managers."

Strip-tilling and putting down dry fertilizer in the fall allows soybeans and corn to emerge more quickly, Riddell says.

"Strip-tilling corn stalks in the fall, and then planting the soybeans into the strips in the spring worked out well," Riddell says. "The soybeans really jumped out of the ground quickly.

"But in the continuous corn, there was so much residue that it was hard to tell that it had been planted last spring until the corn emerged."

The Riddells apply 27-69-69 dry fertilizer on all fields, no matter what is being planted, so they can plant either crop in corn residue.

CAMERA LENDS A HAND. Illinois strip-tiller Jay Riddell uses a camera on the Flexi-Coil dry-fertilizer cart to monitor the strip-till rig. When Riddell pulls an anhydrous tank behind the Orthman 1tRIPr, he uses a camera on the strip-till-rig's hitch so he can hitch up to the anhydrous tank.

"When corn prices spiked," Jay says, "we changed a couple of fields to corn that were supposed to be soybeans in 2011."

This year, the Riddells sidedressed about 170 units of nitrogen on corn-on-corn, and about 140 units of nitrogen on corn-on-soybeans. They also have multiple tests of different rates of 28% nitrogen, as well as 28% nitrogen vs. fall anhydrous.

"Our yield average for corn in 2010 was about 195 bushels per acre," Riddell says. "That's almost 10 bushels more than our actual production history (APH)."

In 2010, the Riddells' soybean yields averaged 61 bushels per acre, about 6 bushels above their APH.

High-Tech Help

The Riddells use RTK with auto-steer and employ implement-guidance receivers on the tractor, strip-till rig and planter.

They say the implement guidance makes a big difference in accuracy while strip-tilling and planting.

"We've got quite a few terraces," he says. "You don't realize how much the planter cheats downhill until you start using implement guidance."

When strip-tilling, Riddell relies on cameras to monitor dry fertilizer and anhydrous applications. The Flexi-Coil cart blocks the view of the strip-till rig, so Riddell mounted a camera on top of the cart.

He also placed a camera on the 1tRIPr hitch, which helps him hitch up an anhydrous tank.

Goals To Achieve

In the future, Riddell wants to get the planter to do a better job staying on the end rows.

"I need to make guidance lines on the end rows so the planter has first-pass guidance rather than steering it manually on the end rows," Riddell says. "It's also hard to make good strips in heavy compaction, where multiple wagon passes were made."

Riddell also wants to do more "split shot," or two, passes of strip-till in the fall. This involves strip-tilling and putting down dry phosphate and potash, then returning to apply anhydrous ammonia when the soil temperatures are cool enough that the fertilizer doesn't leach.

"I like the benefits of sidedressing," he says, "but there's been a very small window to sidedress corn in recent years."