Whether he's working with farmers in the U.S. or Europe, Dean Carstens says one thing about strip-till remains the same.
"Strip-till is a system, it's not a piece of metal," he says.
Carstens, president of Twin Diamond Industries in Minden, Neb., traveled to France in September to visit with farmers interested in strip-till. Twin Diamond ran a small ad about a year ago in an international ag equipment publication that generated five e-mails.
One of the farmers asked to become a Twin Diamond dealer. The company custom-built two strip-till rigs to conform to the narrow-width requirements for transporting equipment on roads in France.
"They're just in the beginning stages of learning to strip-till," Carstens says. "Our representative in France had a demonstration with our strip-till rigs, as well as those of two other U.S. manufacturers.
Pictures of a rape seed field planted earlier this year with strip-till methods. This photo was submitted by Cyrille Geneste, who contacted Dean Carstens of Twin Diamond Industries and agreed to become a rep for the company in France.
"Another large farmer in central France held a cornfield day that drew about 900 farmers. There was a five-course meal, 2 bottles of wine for every four farmers, and a free beer garden. He had just returned from the Farm Progress Show in Boone, Iowa, and was interested in strip-till equipment."
This farmer used a center pivot to irrigate corn, but many farms in France are relatively small by U.S. standards, ranging from 200 to 300 acres, Carstens says.
While their operations are small, the French farmers he talked to were asking good questions about soil fertility. Carstens asked them about the availability of 28% and 32% liquid nitrogen, DAP, MAP and other formulations of fertilizer.
French Farmer Cyrille Geneste shows the difference root size in rape seed when planted with strip-till methods (Photo submitted by Geneste).
"They're scratching to make a living, and to find information," he says.
"They have good weather, but their fields have terrible compaction because they tend to work the ground to an extreme. They tend to equate strip-tilling with ripping fields.
"But they can raise corn. There's an awful lot of corn ground, and rainfall ranges from 18 to 22 inches a year, but there's not much access to commercial fertilizer. They rely on cow manure. While 28% and 32% liquid nitrogen are available, not many farmers know how to use it."
Twin Diamond exported two custom-built StripCat strip-till rigs to France. One was an 11-row rig on 22-inch-row spacings, while the other was a 4-row rig on 30-inch spacings.
"Every farmer in France has a different idea about strip-till and what it should be," Carstens says. "But even in the U.S., where strip-till isn't a new idea, farmers have many ideas about the practice."
Mike Petersen, agronomist for Orthman Mfg. Co. in Lexington, Neb., says farmers in South Africa know they must cut costs and use good farming techniques. Farmers he met said they take technology available worldwide and adapt it.
Four growers from South Africa talk with Mike Petersen (green hat) from Orthman Manufacturing as they set up a strip-till unit to perform in the field. The farmer in the plaid shirt is the owner of the new machine and the land. (Photo submitted by Mike Petersen.)
"These farmers want to use strip-till to use less fertilizer, fuel, labor and time to prepare the seedbed," Petersen says. "They are counting costs down to pennies on the hectare."
Strip-tillers in South Africa primarily use it for growing corn, specifically white corn, as well as sunflowers and soybeans.
"The rand - South Africa's currency - is doing better and farmers have an opportunity to make some money right now," Petersen says. "Approximately 10 rand equal $1.46 U.S. We're the only strip-till company in South Africa, having been there for about 12 months. It's the system the growers there really like."
Dealing With Less Sunlight
Fertilizer placement is crucial for these farmers because there's only about 12 hours of sunshine vs. 14 to 15 hours in the Corn Belt, he says.
"They're farming at 22 degrees south of the equator and 12 hours of sun a day is all they get, along with 20 to 22 inches of rain a year. Dryland corn yields 120 to 150 bushels per acre."
South African farmers that Petersen visited tried making strip-till equipment after seeing U.S. strip-till rigs, but their machines didn't hold up.
The landscape of a farm field in OFS-Orange FreeState, near the city of Harrismith, South Africa. The land lays with small grain and corn in the foreground, with a tractor off in the distance. Beyond the mountain ridge is the small country of Lethoso. (Photo submitted by Mike Petersen.)
Much of the ground Petersen saw reminded him of eastern Colorado and western Kansas. It has less than 1% percent native organic matter, is quite arid, and the soils are overused. The farms he visited grew corn with relative maturity ranging from 98 to 112 days.
"They have a lot of shallower soils," he says. "There is about 40 inches from the surface of the soil to rock. Their soils are pretty old, with limestone and sandstone as the parent material."
Much of the strip-tilling is on 36-inch rows, but 30-inch rows are becoming more popular. Most of the strip-till rigs are 6- and 8-row rigs.
Farmers in South Africa strip-till corn and sunflowers and are planning to strip-till soybeans. Sunflowers haven't emerged well, but strip-till has improved emergence, Petersen says.
"Many of the farms and the fields I visited reminded me of Wisconsin without trees," Petersen says. "It's fairly rolling, with contours and terraces. The terraces are sharp and quite pronounced. Between each terrace is a field."