Strip-tillers often stress the 4R strategy for fertilizer placement, acknowledging that sometimes conditions aren’t always conducive to achieving desired results. 

Being able to adapt and improve a fertility program is a constant evolution. While it won’t eliminate all of the variables that can influence root structure, plant growth or nutrient uptake — a flexible strategy can at least better manage them.

Results of the 5th Annual Strip-Till Operational Practices Benchmark Study continued several fertilizer application timing trends, as well as shifts in the types of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) being applied. 

The most popular placement of fertilizer applied with the strip-till rig was banded below the berm (70.3%), consistent with prior years. Banding nutrients is cited by many strip-tillers as a motivation for adopting the practice. 

Another 33.7% reported mixing fertilizer into the berm during a strip-till pass, and 3.2% applied fertilizer between the berms in 2017, consistent with prior years. 

The number of strip-tillers using dry fertilizer boxes continued to increase, with 66.4% utilizing a mounted or pull-type system in 2017, compared to 63.4% in 2016. Since 2014, usage of dry fertilizer application systems has increased 10% according to benchmark study data. 

A consistently high percentage of strip-tillers owned their own self-propelled or pull-type sprayer in 2017, at 87.2% compared to 88.3% in 2016. This total was higher than the 76.3% of no-tillers who own either a self-propelled or pull-type sprayer according to No-Till Farmer’s Annual Operational Practices Benchmark study. 

Also consistent was the percentage of strip-tillers who variable-rate applied fertilizer in 2017. Some 41.6% utilized the technology, compared to 39.7% in 2016. This total exceeded the 32.7% of no-tillers who used variable-rate application last year, according to the most recent no-till benchmark study.

Tweaking Application Timing

Across the board, strip-tillers remained consistent with the timing of their N applications in 2017, with no method changing by more than 4 percentage points over 2016. 

For the fourth year, sidedressing N remained the most popular placement method at 67.5%, while at-plant application was the second most popular at 47.8%. Some 35.6% applied N during spring strip-till, and 32.9% placed their N while building fall strips. 

Anhydrous ammonia continued to decline as a form of N applied by strip-tillers, to a low of 21.9% in 2017, continuing a dip of nearly 17% since 2014. Farmers continue to debate the cost-efficiency vs. potential soil health consequences of continuously applying NH3 and it will be worth watching if use continues to decline. Meanwhile, use of urea increased in 2017 to a high of 28.1%, compared to 24.2% in 2016. 

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SPLITTING N. Sidedressing remained the most popular application method for N, but three other areas increased in popularity in 2017 — at-plant, pre-plant and fertigation.

There were more pronounced changes in the timing of P and K applications in 2017, as fewer strip-tillers made early spring applications. A low of 29.9% applied P and K during spring strip-till and the same was true for pre-plant applications (14.1%). For the fourth year, P and K application in fall strips was most popular at 59.9%, consistent with 2016 (59.1%). 

Looking at the most common forms of K applied with the strip-till rig, potash continued trending upward for the third year in a row to a high of 59.4%, while those who applied potassium chloride in 2017 increased to 9.8%, also a record high.

Application of monoammonium phosphate (MAP) increased for the fourth consecutive year to an all-time high of 40.2% in 2017. This is nearly double the percentage reported in 2013 (23.2%). Use of diammonium phosphate (DAP) fell slightly in 2017 to 32.8%, but has largely remained a consistently popular source of as a source of P. 

Evaluating micronutrient applications with the strip-till rig, several saw measurable changes in 2017, with the biggest one being a 9-point decline in the use of sulfur from a high of 40.4% in 2016 to a low of 31.6% last year. 

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NUTRIENT DIVERSITY. Application of potash, monoammonium phosphate (MAP) and diammonium phosphate (DAP) were the three most popular forms of fertilizer applied by strip-tillers in 2017. The use of anhydrous ammonia continued to decline for a third straight year.

Application of zinc also declined from 31.5% in 2016 to a low of 27% last year, while three new fertilizer sources were added to this year’s study, including manure (5.1%), Micro Essentials SZ (MESZ) (5.1%) and lime (3.1%).

The Top 10%

Banding fertilizer beneath the berm remained the most common application method among the top-yielding strip-tillers at 67.9%, while 28.6% mixed fertilizer into the berm. 

This group spread out its N applications in 2017, including 56.3% at-plant, 50% sidedress, 43.8% in spring strips and 37.5% in fall strips. Some 28.1% applied anhydrous, and increase over 2016 (22.8%), but still below 2015 (30%) and about one-half of the number in 2014 (62.5%). 

For P and K applications, 59.4% did so in fall strips, an increase of nearly 15% since 2015 (44.9%). Unlike the larger group, the top-yielding strip-tillers remained consistent with early-season placement of P and K. 

Some 34.4% applied P and K in spring strips in 2017, close to the 32.2% total in 2016, while another 34.3% applied at-plant, also consistent with prior years. 

The most popular sources of P for this group was potash and MAP, both utilized by 46.9%. The totals represented a year-over-year decrease for potash (57.2%) and an increase for MAP (34.2%). 

Half of the top-yielding strip-tillers used dry fertilizer systems in 2017, lower than the overall group, while 78.1% owned their own sprayer, about 9 points lower than the overall group. Some 38.7% said they used variable-rate application in 2017, more consistent with the overall total.