After no-tilling corn and soybeans for more than 2 decades, Toledo, Ill., farmer Stan Holsapple switched to strip-tilled corn about 5 years ago.

STARTING EARLY. Stan Holsapple of Toledo, Ill., says strip-tilling corn ground lets him plant 3 days sooner than in no-till corn fields. (Photo: Dean Carstens, Twin Diamond Industries)

Holsapple says strip-tilling tight, wetter clay soils in the fall helps the fields dry out more quickly in the spring.

"We're able to plant the strip-tilled fields 3 days sooner than the no-tilled fields, and about 1 to 2 days later than the conventionally tilled fields," Holsapple says. "Switching to strip-till vs. no-till produced a yield increase in corn of 8 to 12 bushels per acre.

"The strip warms up more quickly than no-tilled ground and the corn emerges faster and better."

About 60% of the ground Holsapple farms is corn and 40% is in soybeans. Most of the fields are poorly drained and are comprised of very tight clay soils with low organic matter, he says. There's little tile drainage in the area, but a lot of surface drainage.

Using a Landoll or Hurricane ditcher, or similar machine, farmers cut a surface ditch across the ground to get water off the flat fields in the spring, he says.

Holsapple strip-tills in the fall, pulling a 16-row Twin Diamond Industries' Strip Cat with 30-inch spacings and a 6-ton Montag dry-fertilizer cart with a 275-horsepower, front-wheel-assist Case IH tractor. Using RTK guidance, he variable-rate applies 80 to 200 pounds of MAP per acre about 6 inches deep.

When planting corn, Holsapple applies 5 gallons of pop-up fertilizer in furrow when planting corn after soybeans. For corn-on-corn, Holsapple applies the same amount of starter and 10 gallons of 28% nitrogen per acre in 2-by-2-inch placement.

Then Holsapple sidedresses corn with anhydrous. He doesn't apply any pre-plant nitrogen because it would be lost in the tight, clay soils.

Holsapple runs two Case IH 1250 16-row corn planters. He uses Precision Planting's 20/20 AirForce system to adjust down pressure on the row units, as well as Martin floating row cleaners.

Holsapple says he's been able to maintain corn yields and there are signs of improvement, even on some pretty poor fields.

"We really haven't seen a yield loss in strip-tilled corn-on-corn vs. strip-tilled corn after soybeans," Holsapple says. "If you leave that residue undisturbed and build a nice strip to plant in, the corn stalks will break down."

Making Adjustments

Holsapple prefers to strip-till in the fall because the berm will dry out faster in the spring. But when the weather didn't cooperate in the fall of 2009, he had to adjust.

Working with input from Twin Diamond, Holsapple changed the Strip Cat's setup in the spring of 2010. They removed the mole knives and replaced them with ripple discs to fluff up the soil before planting the corn. It worked pretty well, he says.

"The mole knives would have run too deep for spring strip-till, while the discs ran 2 inches deep," Holsapple says. "The yields in 2010 were good — comparable to 2009. But who's to say what's average in agriculture? Every year is different."

Since Holsapple started strip-tilling, he's changed what he does to the berms in the fall. The first time he strip-tilled, he used the rolling baskets on the implement to firm the soil in the berms. But he found out that it worked better to leave the baskets off.

"The soil will mellow out by the spring, and it works better to let the berms settle naturally instead of pushing the soil down in the berm," Holsapple says. "By pressing down too much, the rolling baskets can make an indentation. It's better to plant into a slightly raised berm than into a trench."