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For Canadian strip-tiller Mike Verdonck, weed pressure, erosion and a reliance on heavy herbicide and fertilizer applications are all symptoms of “sick” soil.
The antidote? Reducing tillage, moving to a year-round, multi-species cover cropping system and putting a focus on rebuilding and maintaining soil health.
Verdonck farms 2,500 acres of mostly corn and soybeans near Montreal, Quebec. Farming heavy clay soils, his latitude exposes him to difficult climate challenges, compounded by more than a decade of conventional tillage practices.
“Believe it or not, we’re still able to grow corn that far north — maybe in the 95-day variety or 100 if we push it,” Verdonck says. “We probably have a bit of a microclimate though because of the St. Lawrence River.”
Trials with no-till in the early 2000s didn’t go well. Verdonck says he immediately saw soil degradation, compaction and heavy perennial weed pressures. Increases in herbicide application erased some of the efficiency gains he saw.
BIO-HERBICIDE. After trying no-till first, Verdonck ran into onerous weed pressure. His current system of year-round cover cropping and strip-tilling has allowed him to dial back the herbicide rates as a natural mat of cover crops often choke out early season weed growth.
It wasn’t exactly love at first sight with strip-till either when he first tried it several years later. Building his own rig in 2012, Verdonck says it took him some time to settle on ideal depth — initially starting at 18 inches — and toolbar set-up, as he was seeing smearing…