Pictured Above: SUPPORT MECHANISM. While equipment knowledge is one part of strip-till, it’s not the only one. Farmers are also looking for support and understanding of strip-till as a system to be successful.

As a niche farming practice, strip-till requires an intimate understanding of how different parts of the system correlate to an overall objective, whether it’s increasing yields, improving soil health, targeting fertilizer application — or all three.

Striking the right balance between equipment and inputs, to maximize the benefits of strip-till, is a constant work in progress. With so many moving parts (literally and figuratively), having a local resource who is knowledgeable on setting up and maintaining a strip-till system can be a luxury for farmers.

Set Up for Success

Unlike other implements, strip-till rigs often require a more detailed understanding of a farmer’s operation and goals to ensure proper performance and results. 

After researching different strip-till rigs at a field day in Illinois, North Vernon, Ind., farmer Bob Kent purchased a 16-row Kuhn-Krause Gladiator unit, the first one sold by his local equipment dealership, to strip-till corn on his 1,500-acre operation. While he relies heavily on his manufacturer representative for support, Kent has worked with his equipment dealer on some maintenance and modifications.

When he purchased the unit, one of Kent’s first objectives was to add a liquid fertilizer box. He bought a 1,000-gallon liquid tank that the dealership mounted on the unit to apply phosphorus and potassium with ground-driven pumps. Kent also pulls an anhydrous tank behind the strip-till unit and worked with his dealer to connect and route the hoses to the row units.

“With strip-till, it’s important that my dealer has a good relationship with their supplier,” Kent says. “When we bought our unit, a company representative, my salesperson from the dealership and a service technician all came out to set up the machine, which showed me collaboration and commitment.”

Even if dealers aren’t strip-till equipment experts, they should at least understand the basics, says Plainview, Texas, strip-tiller Steve Olson. This includes sizing a strip-till rig to match a farmer’s operation, making sure row units are level and set to the desired depth and being able to sell and service GPS systems (especially RTK-level correction), which many strip-tillers view as a necessity. 

With a masters degree in engineering, Olson does most of his own equipment modifications on his 12-row Orthman 1tRIPr unit, and suggests that farmers can be less reliant on dealers for strip-till equipment expertise, than with other pieces of machinery.

“If my dealer delivers a new combine to my farm and I can’t figure out how to run it and call the manufacturer, that dealer would be in big trouble,” Olson says. “But if I don’t know how to run my strip-till rig, there’s not always the same pressure on the dealer because chances are, I’ll figure it out.”

Embracing the Concept

While equipment knowledge is one part of strip-till, it’s not the only one. Farmers are also looking for support and understanding of strip-till as a system.

Dealers who simply sell a strip-till rig and then ask the manufacturer to tell them what settings they should run, how deep it should go and where to place what pin are likely going to have farm customers experience middling results, says Andy Thompson, Niota, Ill., strip-tiller and territory manager for Yetter Mfg. 

“When a farmer goes into an equipment dealer and asks about strip-till equipment, nutrient placement equipment, reduced tillage equipment, etc., they are now needing someone to help teach them how to connect with the farmer on these subjects,” Thompson says. “Therein lies the problem. The successful dealers selling strip-till equipment are the ones who are selling the concept and helping educate the farmer, not only on the equipment, but also on the practice.”

Olson says dealers who are serious about selling strip-till equipment should expect to make at least a 3 year commitment with the customer before seeing measurable benefits such as improved soil health and higher yields.

He purchased his first strip-till rig in 2006 from an equipment dealer in the Oklahoma Panhandle after finding little support or knowledge from local retailers about how to implement the system on his 2,500 corn and cotton operation. 

“I was basically told point blank that strip-till wasn’t going to work in our area because of the dry, hard clay soils we have in northern Texas,” he says. “But gradually, the practice started getting more attention because it helps retain moisture, which is a precious commodity in our area, while also increasing yields.”

In 2009, he purchased his current strip-till rig from his local farm equipment dealership. At the time, it was one of the first strip-till unit the dealership had sold, but Olson says the retailer has been an ally in developing his system.

As part of the purchase, the dealership helped coordinate a brief meeting with agronomist and plant root expert Mike Petersen, who Olson credits with connecting the dots between fertility, soil health and equipment setup in his strip-till system.

“The biggest issue for a lot of dealers, as well as farmers, is that they don’t understand that soil structure and soil health are absolutely everything when it comes to having a successful crop,” Olson says. “That’s a key part of being profitable with strip-till, and the producer who can produce the most with lowest cost per bushel is going to succeed.”

Reinforcing the benefits of strip-till can be a natural sales tool for dealers, says Kent, who has increased corn yields by 10% per acre and trimmed his fertilizer application by 40% per acre since adopting the practice. 

“It doesn’t take long for the equipment to pay for itself when you get that kind of return,” he says. “If a dealer in the strip-till business hasn’t sold a unit, I advise them to partner with a representative farmer who can show the value.”