Crop yields, prices and weather conditions for strip-tilling are totally opposite — for the better — this fall vs. 2009, says Jodi DeJong-Hughes, University of Minnesota Extension crops and soils educator in Marshall, Minn.

"I see a lot of strip-tillers smiling," DeJong-Hughes says. "Farmers in western Minnesota wrapped up their soybean harvest this year earlier and  started combining soybeans last year. And they're wrapping up the corn harvest. There are really good yields and really good prices this year."

Strip-tilling continues to evolve in the western Corn Belt, she says. Part of this comes with experience, along with the addition of equipment options from manufacturers.

Starting about 5 years ago, strip-till started developing a nice following among farmers in the western Corn Belt, DeJong-Hughes says. But several recent wet falls and springs were a huge setback. Some farmers who couldn't strip-till turned to vertical tillage.

Options Are Important

But things turned around for strip-tillers earlier this year, DeJong-Hughes says.

"I think that it’s really great that a number of manufacturers are giving strip-tillers a ‘Plan A’ and a ‘Plan B,' " she says. "I can’t state how important it is for farmers to have options.

"Earlier this year, four or five manufacturers introduced coulters that could be used on strip-till rigs instead of shanks. For the strip-tillers who mudded in strips in the fall of 2009 and then followed up last spring with a light coulter pass, that really helped a lot."

With the perspective of a number of years of experience, DeJong-Hughes says it appears that more education and equipment options were needed to make strip-till work every year.

"Disc-ripping is king in western Minnesota because anyone can do it," she says. "Strip-tilling, however, has been fairly new for a lot of farmers, although some have been strip-tilling for 20 to 25 years. Strip-tilling is definitely a full-system change. Maybe we didn't do a good-enough job developing and explaining this system."

Some farmers who started strip-tilling thought anyone could create strips, apply fertilizer and build berms in the fall, DeJong-Hughes says.

"You have to drive straight to create the strips," she says. "Some farmers wanted to strip-till in the fall, but found that they couldn’t entrust strip-tilling to just anyone while they were combining their crops. But advanced GPS changed that. One strip-tiller told me, ‘With RTK guidance and hands-free auto steer, now my Mom can go out and strip-till.' "

Biotech Sugarbeets

Glyphosate-tolerant sugarbeets were a great option for farmers who wanted to rotate from corn or soybeans, DeJong-Hughes says.

"Almost 40% of Minnesota beet growers use a companion crop, like oats, to reduce erosion and wind damage to young seedlings," she says. "The oat crop is sprayed out with the first pass of herbicide. Reduced tillage was another tool to help reduce soil erosion and wind damage."

Research conducted by North Dakota State University was proving that growers could use strip-till without tonnage and sugar content set-backs. But strip-tilling sugarbeets suffered a setback because of a federal judge’s decision earlier this year that barred the planting of Roundup Ready sugarbeets for the 2011 growing season.

Without Roundup Ready sugarbeets, strip-tillage has taken it on the chin in the region.

"Sugarbeet growers are returning to moldboard plowing," DeJong-Hughes says. "They moldboard fields in the fall, and field-cultivate them in the spring so they're flat and black. And then they put in the sugarbeets. It’s a double setback, because there’s very little residue covering these fields and there’s lots of tillage, which leaves fields vulnerable to erosion.

"Keeping the Roundup Ready sugarbeet option would be great to allow farmers to reduce tillage. And with fall strip-tillage, farmers were able to cut back on tillage."