Strip-till works well for Chatsworth, Ill., farmer Tim McGreal, whose family started the practice more than 20 years ago.
"My father, Jim, started with an anhydrous toolbar, knifing it into the old soybean row," McGreal says. "The corn plants that came up in that row looked good. We were on 30-inch row spacing for corn and for soybeans when we started strip-tilling.
"Strip-till is still a specialty practice, which fits everyone's farming operation a bit differently..."
— Tim McGreal
"Shifting to 15-inch row spacing for soybeans messed up our system. Now we use 30-inch row spacing for strip-tilling corn and no-tilling soybeans."
The McGreals strip-till in the fall because the clay content of the soil is so great, making spring strip-till impractical.
"We need the over wintering effect of freezing and thawing to get our strip-tilled soil to mellow out," McGreal says.
They started strip-tilling years ago with a Progressive Farm Products strip-till rig. These days, the McGreals use 24 Redball strip-till row units on 30-inch spacing mounted on a 60-foot-wide Wil-Rich toolbar with a folding frame. The frame was designed by Pennville, Ind., strip-tiller Shane Houck, who licensed the design to Wil-Rich.
The Wil-Rich toolbar has a 10-ton Amity dry fertilizer tank with tracks underneath, mounted to the toolbar. McGreal likes the tracks because they reduce compaction issues, and he also likes not having to tow a tank behind the strip-till rig.
The McGreals only apply dry fertilizer in the fall. They put on about 140 pounds per acre of DAP, 70 pounds of potash and 45 pounds of AMS. The McGreals use a corn planter with 24 rows and 30-inch spacing, and sidedress corn with a Fast 23-row knife machine.
In 2012, McGreal will greet the growing season with a new planter.
"It's going to be a 1925 Orthman-John Deere semi-mount unit that Orthman is custom building for me," he says. "They will add an Atlas fertilizer cart with tracks behind the planter to lift the planter and carry bulk-fill tanks for the planter."
Both the tractor and new planter will be on 18-inch-wide belts next spring. McGreal will continue to use Yetter floating row cleaners and Precision Planting's CleanSweep attachment on the planter.
RTK Is Crucial
McGreal, a sales representative for Ag Leader, began using Ag Leader's RTK guidance system about 7 years ago and uses it for strip-tilling and planting.
When strip-tilling corn on corn, he moves over 15 inches from the previous year's corn row. For strip-tilling corn after soybeans, they move over 7 inches from the old corn stalks.
"You really do need RTK guidance when you're covering large acres," McGreal says. "We did mix and match the number of rows we had on our strip-till rig and our planter. We had a 12-row strip-till rig and a 24-row planter. Now, we have the 24-row strip-till rig on the Wil-Rich toolbar and a 24-row planter."
The McGreals pull the strip-till rig with a 460-horsepower Caterpillar 855 tractor.
"With a loaded 10-ton fertilizer tank, it takes considerable horsepower to move this rig through the field," he says.
McGreal says seed-to-soil contact and germination has been much better with strip-till than with no-till and it's made a difference in yields.
"In no-till, we thought we were losing 5,000 to 7,000 plants per acre due to poor emergence. If you lose 7 bushels for every 1,000 corn plants, that translates to a yield difference of 35 to 50 bushels per acre in no-till vs. strip-till."
The McGreals use Lakota stubble shoes on each row of the corn head during harvest and like the difference they make with the uniformity of the stand in the next year's corn crop, "because the corn seedling is not shaded by the corn stalks as they emerge and start growing," McGreal says.
"We've been using these stubble shoes for about 4 years and they reduce the amount of damage the corn stalks do to tires in corn-on-corn fields."
There are a number of farmers in the area who strip-till. While strip-till works in the high-clay content soils, field cultivation does not, McGreal says.
"Strip-till takes a high amount of management, just like no-till does," he says. "Strip-till is still a specialty practice, which fits everyone's farming operation a bit differently."
For farmers considering strip-till for the first time, McGreal says they should consider hiring a custom strip-tiller for some of their acres before switching to the practice on all of their farmland.
"It's hard to do both conventional tillage and strip-tillage," McGreal says. "If you try to keep doing both tillage systems, you'll probably be reluctant to spend the money needed to do strip-till right."