The increasing amount of strip-till equipment on the market, along with RTK and new options for spring strip-till, are making it easier for farmers to start and continue strip-tilling successfully, says Jodi DeJong-Hughes, a strip-till expert for University of Minnesota Extension.

Corn planted at the edge of strip-tilled berms yielded 11 bushels per acre less than corn planted in the middle of the berm in a 2010-2011 study conducted by Jodi DeJong-Hughes, University of Minnesota strip-till expert. (Photo courtesy of Jodi DeJong-Hughes)

"When I first started working with strip-till in 2003, it seemed that much of what farmers had available for strip-tilling consisted of glorified anhydrous toolbars," DeJong-Hughes says. "These days, there are far more strip-till rigs on the market from many companies."

The advent and adoption of RTK precision technology has made strip-till more accurate and sped up successful adoption of the system.

When RTK and auto-steer came on the market, DeJong-Hughes says she may not have fully appreciated what it could do for strip-tillers. But a test she conducted with RTK and strip-till demonstrated its accuracy and the yield differences that the technology makes.

Using RTK, DeJong-Hughes planted corn in the middle of a strip-tilled berm and on the inside edge of the berm.

"In the fall of 2010, we RTK'd the strips into a field in Morris, Minn., that had been in soybeans," DeJong-Hughes says. "In the spring of 2011, we planted corn with RTK on the berm and on the edge of the berm — about 4 inches over from the middle of the berm.

"Three of the four replications showed that there was an average of 11-bushel-per-acre difference — or 5.5% increase in yield — with the seed planted in the middle of the berm vs. on the edge. The difference in yield has to do with temperature and direct placement of seed over the fertilizer band. Next year, I'll have a similar plot and I will put in soil temperature gauges."

And it appears more strip-tillers are using RTK. DeJong-Hughes recently started working with three new strip-tillers in her research and all of them use the technology.

"It definitely helps that you can plant exactly where you placed the fertilizer," she says. "You can get the seed into the area of the berm that warms up quickly. The other benefit of RTK is that you won't get a crick in your neck from turning around to see if your strip-till rig and planter are in the right place, and on the row."

Still another benefit of RTK is that anyone can strip-till straight across the field.

"Before auto-steer, producers needed to hire people who had a higher level of competence with equipment," DeJong-Hughes says. "Now, they just need to be able to push a button at the end of the field. This frees up the producer to work wherever needed during harvest."

Spring Strip-Till Options

Until several years ago, many farmers who strip-tilled in the fall felt like they couldn't strip-till in the spring with their shanked strip-till rig, DeJong-Hughes says. But a number of companies have come out with coulters that allow farmers to modify strip-till rigs to successfully strip-till in the spring.

"Using coulters to strip-till is something that Dawn Equipment Co. and Environmental Tillage Systems have been offering for years," DeJong-Hughes says. "In the past 2 years, Orthman, Yetter, ETS and Hiniker are among the companies that have introduced options for strip-tillers using their equipment.

"With Orthman, users can remove the mole knives on the row units and replace them with coulters. Environmental Tillage Systems — which started out by introducing the Soil Warrior with very large 25-inch containment coulters — then introduced the Mini Warrior with smaller, 20-inch wavy coulters. These are just a few of the new options."

The result is that strip-tillers have more tools to deal with tough weather conditions in the fall and spring, DeJong-Hughes says.

"The increasing number of options gives added comfort and confidence to strip-tillers, whether they've been using the practice for 20 years or are just starting out," she says. "And that's good, because farmers are more sensitive to risk than ever before. While the price of corn and soybeans has skyrocketed, so has the cost of land, fertilizer and other inputs."

Strip-Tilling Successfully

Coulter options — like those on this Hiniker toolbar — have given more farmers the ability to strip-till in the spring, says Jodi DeJong-Hughes, University of Minnesota Extension strip-till expert. (Photo courtesy of Jodi DeJong-Hughes)

While strip-tillers and equipment manufacturers have learned over the years, DeJong-Hughes says she has, too.

"When I started working with farmers in 2003, I knew it was a big change for farmers to switch from one tillage system to strip-till," she says. "What I wasn't as good at conveying to the farmers was the 'whole-system' changes that include weeds, fertility and pests. Instead, I focused on equipment and soil, which are my areas of expertise."

When switching to strip-till, farmers must change their overall farming system.

"For example, there are more perennial weeds to deal with in strip-till than with conventional tillage," she says. "Dandelions, marestail and even tree saplings can be problems. They have to go back to integrated weed management, including understanding tankmixes and weed-growth cycles. Roundup won't take care of all of it."

But she adds that strip-tillers can adjust to these changes, as well as some that are unexpected, too.

"I know of a farmer who switched to strip-till and later found that a fox had dug a den into the side of a hill in one of his fields," DeJong-Hughes says. "The fox feels comfortable there because much of the field was undisturbed year round. The strip-tiller decided to leave the den alone, and the fox returns every year!"