Faced with cold, wet soils to no-till into each spring, Ohio and Indiana growers credit strip-till with boosting corn yields by as much as 40 bushels per acre.

A revival is happening across the Corn Belt that could save no-till corn. The movement is called strip tillage.

FASTER SPRING SOIL WARMUP. Rob Joslin wanted strip-tilling to help him plant earlier. After several attempts with various types of strip-tilling equipment, he’s doing just that.

The statistics uncover the story. In Indiana, 54 percent of producers no-tilled soybeans in 1998 while only 16 percent no-tilled corn. The no-till corn numbers dropped from 25 percent in 1994.

The reason for the turndown is found mainly in high clay or poorly drained soils, where continuous no-till fields take longer to warm up in the spring.

Strip-tillage offers renewed hope. With strip-tillage, a 4- to 8-inch tall mound is made in the fall or spring. This strip allows no-tilled soils to warm and dry and still retain 30 percent residue.

While strip-tillage has been popular in other parts of the Corn Belt for nearly a decade, only recently has the availability of equipment shifted to the eastern soils.

Took Several Attempts

After seeing the strip-till results on Jim Kinsella’s Lexington, Ill., farm in the early 1990s, Rob Joslin came home and tried the idea.

Joslin’s strip-till experiments ranged from using a row cultivator with some of the shovels lowered to running an empty corn planter with residue managers in the fall. Nothing seemed to work and he wasn’t ready to invest in new equipment.  

Then in 1998, he urged his local equipment dealer, Apple Farm Service, to purchase a strip-till bar. Joslin rented the bar and a 150-horsepower tractor to pull the bar. He and his wife, Ellen, farm 800 acres.

The 12-row Yetter 8000 ITC bar is equipped with heavy-duty Tri-Fold markers. It’s also equipped with a Yetter L128 fertilizer unit, 2960 no-till coulters, 2967 residue managers, anhydrous knives and covering discs. The bar is set up with a parallel linkage system for 30-inch rows. This allows Joslin to build a 4-inch mound that mellows to about 2 inches in the spring.

WHEAT STUBBLE CONCERNS. Rob Joslin finds strip-till really shines in wheat stubble residue where pure no-tilling previously has been a major problem. The Sidney, Ohio, no-tiller finds strip-till can overcome the problems where wheat stubble is often 5 degrees colder in the spring compared to other types of residue.

The concept is accomplishing what Joslin set out to do—start planting sooner. “When I checked the soil temperature, I was amazed at the difference,” he says from his farm near Sidney, Ohio.

On April 6, 1998, the air temperature was 72 degrees F. at 5 p.m. The wheat stubble ground was 53 degrees at a depth of 1 1/2 inches. By comparison, the strip-till’s soil temperature was 65 degrees F. The next day, Joslin started no-tilling corn.

Joslin finds strip-till shines in wheat stubble. “Wheat stubble has been a real problem to no-till into,” he says. “The stubble is often 5 degrees colder all spring.”

Along with warmer soils, Joslin calculates an 8-bushel-per-acre increase from his own and neighbors’ fields compared to pure no-till. In the fall of 1998, he strip-tilled 150 of his acres and 300 custom acres, without applying any fertilizer.

40-Bushel Boost?

Across the state line, Dan DeSutter finds strip-till yields compared with no-till range from the same yield to a 40-bushel-per-acre increase.

DeSutter also likes being able to plant earlier. “Where it’s really critical is when we plant in April,” he explains. “In May when the soil is warmer and drier, the strip-till advantage might not be as great.”

Operating the planter in wet springs is another plus. “We’ve been able to plant between rains when farmers in other systems aren’t able to plant a kernel,” says the corn and soybean grower.

The Attica, Ind., producer started strip tilling in 1993 using a 12-row DMI heavy-duty 3200 toolbar. The three-point mount toolbar has a Concord pneumatic air applicator with spring-loaded shanks. The bar is set up with 24-inch straight cutter blades, mole knives and 18-inch smooth disc sealers.

DeSutter applies 40 units of phosphorus and 45 units of dry potash which is placed 6 inches deep. He does not apply nitrogen in the fall due to inconsistent results. Instead, sidedressing is more efficient and cheaper, he says.

Hire It Done

In the fall of 1998, DeSutter sold his strip-till applicator and hired a custom strip-tiller to cover all his acreage and apply the fertilizer. The custom strip-tiller saves DeSutter time during the hectic harvest season. “We can’t wait until harvest is over to strip-till or we don’t get done,” he explains.

Plus, a skilled operator is necessary for the strip-tillage work because DeSutter plants 12 rows and harvests 8. “The guess rows have to be darn near perfect,” he points out.

More Strip-Till, No-Till

Perfecting the art of strip-tillage should spur no-till corn numbers, believes Purdue University’s Tony Vyn. How much the figures sprout depends on effective strip-till fertilizer management.

MUCH WARMER, DRIER FIELDS. Rob Joslin has found that strip-tilling can increase the early spring soil temperatures by as much as 12 degrees.

“The use of fall strip-till equipment has other potential economic advantages. The banding of phosphorus and potassium plus anhydrous with N-serve, (in certain areas of the eastern Corn Belt) would obviously hasten the adoption of fall strip-till,” says the agronomist.

Vyn researched strip-tillage at Ontario’s University of Guelph before moving to Indiana. His five-year Canadian figures show fall zone till boosted corn yields 10 percent compared to pure no-till. When corn followed soybeans on clay and clay loam soils, the yield increase was 5 to 6 percent.

“Bonus” Benefits. Even without the yield increases, strip-tillers like the intangible benefits. “These are the nicest soil conditions I’ve ever planted in,” says Joslin, a 15-year continuous no-tiller. “The ground is so mellow.”

DeSutter also believes the strip-till task is definitely worth the extra effort. “How do you put a price on getting started planting in mid-April vs. not starting until mid-May?” he asks.

Tips On Strips

Read on as these two experienced strip-tillers pass on more tips for strip-tilling success.

“The most difficult part is keeping the planter on the strip,” warns Dan DeSutter of Attica, Ind. He doesn’t use the row markers on his no-till planter and instead watches the strips carefully. “It takes more concentration to stay on the strips than to follow a marker,” he says.

Don’t take the trash-wipers off your planter if you switch to strip-till, DeSutter adds. “Trash wipers are a necessity because you’re not always going to be on the strip,” he warns.

Rob Joslin of Sidney, Ohio, passes along this warning.  Make sure your straw choppers are sharpened before the combine rolls. If the blades are not sharp, the straw or residue will bunch up, making it difficult for the strip-till bar to run smoothly, points out the custom strip-till operator.

The Conservation Technology Information Center at West Lafayette, Ind., recommends that the strip-till bar exactly match your no-till planter. For example, you should have a bar that is equipped for 8-row, 30-inch fields or 12-row, 30-inch fields. The strip-till bar should also have markers.

Fall application of anhydrous ammonia should be delayed until the soil temperature is 50 degrees F or less. A nitrification inhibitor is recommended to increase nutrient efficiency.