Scott Setniker tried strip-till for the first time this year and the Independence, Ore., farmer looks forward to trying it again this fall and next spring.

Scott Setniker, strip-tiller in Independence, Ore.

Last spring, Setniker strip-tilled field corn and sweet corn on 30-inch spacings and in twin rows with 7.5 inch spacings.

He used twin-row strip-till on 100 acres of sweet corn and field corn and twin-row strip-till on 200 acres of sweet corn and field corn. Setniker became interested in twin-row corn from a local dairy farmer who using this practice.

“We were so impressed with their twin-row corn, we decided to try it,” Setniker says.

Setniker Farms is comprised of his parents, David and Joan; his wife, Lindsey; and his sister, Trisha Dalke. At its peak, the farm employs more than 30 people.

The farm crops about 5,000 acres. This year, the farm devoted 1,500 acres to grass seed; 1,000 acres to peppermint; 230 acres to hazelnuts; 775 acres to sweet corn; and 450 acres to field corn.

The farm also grew 600 acres  of soft-white winter wheat; 350 acres of sweet green peas; 175 acres to bush beans; and 40 acres to red clover. The farm feeds out and sells natural beef, grows and retails pumpkins and has a corn maze.

“We’ve been diversified forever,” Setniker says.

Strip-Tilling In Oregon

Strip-tilling in the area started years ago, but has a different look than in the Corn Belt, Setniker says. Some area strip-tillers make multiple passes over the strip in the spring and no fall strip-tilling is done, he says.

Setniker, who graduated from Oregon State University in 2005 with a degree in crop science, decided to start strip-tilling on a small scale. He contacted Dawn Equipment and bought a six-row Dawn Pluribus toolbar, which was a demonstration unit.

“We thought the Dawn Pluribus would work well for us with 1-pass in the spring in front of the planter, Setniker says. “We’re going to try some fall strip-till, too.”

Few area farmers strip-till in the fall because 30 inches of rain often fall between October and April in the area. Berms built in the fall invert under that amount of rain, which also precludes applying nitrogen in the fall, Setniker says.

In fact, the strips he made last February were almost inverted by the time he planted corn, starting in early May. He stripped the field again before planting. Setniker uses a six-row Case IH 955 Cyclo planter and a six-row, twin-row Monosem planter for planting corn.

Monosem planters are popular in the area because they handle high populations and singulate bush beans well, he says. 

“The Monosem planters do a good job with vegetables, as well as other specialty-seed crops,” he says. “And the metering system is so easy to switch from one crop to another.”

Twin-Row Strips

Setniker decided to twin-row, strip-till sweet corn to increase yields. The twin rows are 7½ inches apart on 30-inch centers. He applies pop-up fertilizer with the planter.

The 6-24-6 fertilizer is in a 2-by-2-inch placement from each of the twin rows. Setniker says most university research on starter fertilizer in corn is on single-row, 30-inch spacing. He wonders what the right amount is for twin-row corn.

This year, Setniker planted 36,000 to 42,000 seeds per acre for twin-row grain corn and 22,000 to 26,000 for sweet corn. Both the grain corn and sweet corn were planted into fields where they used full tillage, he says, explaining that 2010 was a transitional year.

“This winter, we will probably make our strip-till rig bigger, perhaps expanding it 12 rows by adding wings,” he says.

The farm needs the ability to plant large amounts of grain corn quickly, while it plants sweet corn from mid-April to late June, he explains.

“With the six-row strip-till unit, it’s hard to cover more than 75 acres per day,” Setniker says.

Trying Fall Strip-Till

This fall, he wants to strip-till and apply dry potash, then put down some potash and a small amount of nitrogen pre-plant in the spring with the strip-till rig. After that, Setniker will topdress the rest of the nitrogen for corn.

“Almost all of the nitrogen used in the Willamette Valley is urea,” Setniker explains. “There’s a little bit of 32% liquid nitrogen. There’s no anhydrous ammonia.”

He will consider using a fertilizer air cart with the strip-till rig.

“I want to compare the yields of my strip-till corn vs. that of my conventional-till corn,” he says. “Right now, the strip-till corn looks pretty good.”

Setniker wants to transition all of the farm to strip-till and no-till.

“Right now, we do vertical tillage,” he says. “We do some full tillage with our grass seed crops, such as fescue.”

Before the Setnikers began strip-tilling last winter, they started using a Trimble RTK GPS system.

“We have two tractors set up with RTK to do strip-till — one to strip-till and one to plant," he says. " I transfer the A-B line from one tractor to the other.

"For twin-row strip-till, I think RTK is the only way to keep the planter on the strip. But with perfectly straight strips, it’s easy to keep the single row planter on the strip.”

Growing Sweet Corn

Setniker recently harvested 12.5 tons of sweet corn per acre from a field that was strip-tilled on 30-inch spacing.

Growing grain corn and sweet corn poses several challenges. The processor, a farmer-owned cooperative called NORPAC, requires separation of time and space between sweet corn and conventional and biotech grain corn, Setniker says.

Conventional corn must be planted at least 330 feet away and/or 3 weeks before or after the nearest-planted sweet corn. But for biotech grain corn, there must be a separation of 4 weeks and or half a mile.

In 2009, Setniker planted a 78-day conventional hybrid to comply with the separation requirements between it and the sweet corn. But he wasn’t able to buy that hybrid this year, so he planted one with about a 90-day relative maturity.