Strip-Cropping Experiments Yielding Economic, Environmental Advantages

Since adopting the modified strip-till system in 2008, Dean Sponheim has seen a 12-15% increase in corn yield and an $80-$100 per acre increase in net income.

Pictured Above: PRODUCTIVE PLOTS. Nearly 10 years ago, Nora Springs, Iowa, farmer Dean Sponheim incorporated a strategy called strip-cropping into his strip-till system. The method alternates 8 rows of strip-tilled soybeans with 8 rows of strip-tilled corn on his 600-acre farm. Plots vary in size from 80 to 160 acres and sometimes plots will include alternative 4-row blocks of each crop. Key benefit of the system include better light interception, air movement in the strips and less soil erosion

Nora Springs, Iowa farmer Dean Sponheim calls himself an “accidental conservationist,” because he stumbled into strip-tillage by necessity and economics, rather than for reasons of environmental friendliness. 

“I have to farm high clays and I was always replanting corn in the spring if we had pounding rains,” says Sponheim. “No matter how dry I worked that ground before I planted it, it would always crust over. I’d heard about farmers in Ohio and Indiana that were strip-tilling and not working the ground in the spring to keep the soil intact so they wouldn’t ruin the soil tilth in the spring.”

Having to replant 7 out of every 10 years, Sponheim had enough. In 1999, he decided to switch from full-width tillage to strip-tilling and he hasn’t looked back. While he had seen good production from conventional tillage, benefits including increased organic matter, superior planting conditions and earthworm activity have him believing that he’s on the right track. 

By the early 2000s, Sponheim decreased the ratio of years he’s had to replant…

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Ian Gronau

Ian Gronau is a Contributing Editor for Lessiter Publications, with primary support responsibilities for Precision Farming Dealer, Strip-Till Strategies and the Strip-Till Farmer Website. He is a graduate of Chicago’s Columbia College and has been preparing content for magazines, websites and newspapers since 2009, and has been recognized with several awards.

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