Strip-tillers in South Dakota are gaining at least 20 bushels per acre or more in corn yields compared to other tillage systems, says Cole Cotton, sales agronomist with Northern Plains CHS.
“There’s been better emergence, faster dry down and better stands,” Cotton says. “All of this has resulted in higher corn yields — 20-plus bushels per acre more than other tillage systems.”
Strip-tilling is also helping farmers, including long-term no-tillers, effectively manage compaction.
“With the enhanced root development, strip-tilled corn seems to handle drought better than traditional no-till.”
— Cole Cotton, Northern Plains CHS
“Even though farmers have been in no-till for many years," Cotton says, "compaction is a serious issue, whether it comes from the plowpan made prior to no-till, from large equipment, wet harvest conditions or heavy rains."
“A proper knife on the strip-till bar is critical to get the ground lifted. It causes a fracturing effect, which helps break the hardpans. The direct result is a much better root system, which leads to higher yields.”
Some corn growers in the region have worried that strip-tilled corn would suffer from drought if rain didn’t fall in July and August, but that hasn’t been the case, Cotton says.
“With the enhanced root development, strip-tilled corn seems to handle drought better than traditional no-till,” he says.
Strip-Tilling Gains Ground
Strip-tilling is gaining awareness and usage in parts of the seven-location trade area that Northern Plains CHS serves in south central North Dakota and north central and western South Dakota, says Mark Biedenfeld, agronomy sales manager for Northern Plains CHS Service Center based in Gettysburg, S.D.
"All of the strip-till is being done in the fall for corn planted the following spring," Biedenfeld says. "In the area that Northern Plains serves, strip-tillers aren’t using the practices for soybeans."
“Further east in the Dakotas, strip-tillers are beginning to experiment with the system for soybeans. They’re doing so to improve fertility placement, soybean emergence and to build phosphorus and potassium levels in the soil.”
The cooperative does custom strip-tilling in the fall using a knife or shank to place nutrients. In many cases, coulters and trash whippers are used on the toolbar ahead of the knife or shank.
Biedenfeld says the biggest agronomic advantage of strip-tilling has been leaving at least 75% of the residue undisturbed, which conserves moisture while creating a black strip of soil that warms up faster in the spring.
“Strip-tillers are placing nitrogen, phosphate, potash, sulfur and zinc in their fertility programs,” he says. “The majority of the nitrogen being applied is anhydrous ammonia. The anhydrous is being placed 6 to 8 inches deep and the other nutrients are being placed approximately 4 inches deep.”
Pros And Cons For Strip-Till
When it comes to strip-tilling corn, there have been mixed results in the region, Cotton says.
“There’s better placement of fertilizer compared to spreading fertilizer on top of the ground, like in no-till, and relying on rainfall to incorporate it into the soil,” he says.
But there can be inadvertent problems with strips, Cotton adds, citing a recent event. After a week of heavy rainfall, corn that was planted into strips suffered seed rot because of heavy saturation. But a cornfield that was no-tilled the same day was able to handle the heavy rain.
“I observed 3,500 fewer corn plants per acre in the strip-till than in the no-till, which caused a 15-bushel-per-acre decrease," Cotton says.