Strip-tillers share modifications and equipment setup changes that have helped them improve their effectiveness.
In the spirit of continuous im-provement, we recently asked strip-tillers if they could provide us with some of the beneficial modifications they've made to their strip-till rigs.
Whether it's a new manufactured strip-till bar or even an older homemade version, the relative "newness" of this management technique means many strip-tillers are looking for ways to improve berm building, fertilizer application or precision performance.
We include several examples here.
New Bar Sees Modifications
Dean and Ben Fehl of LaPorte, Iowa, recently purchased a Case nutri-till'r 5310 strip-till bar and went right to work making modifications to fit their field operations.
"For starters, we did not get the stock Case sealers," Ben Fehl says. "Instead, we ordered Blu-Jet sealers. There are two arms that act independently, therefore less chance for them to plug.
"A local welding shop helped us fabricate a bracket that moved the sealers forward so that dirt didn't blow out the sides before it got gathered in by the sealers. This worked very well and we were able to pick up ground speed.
FLOAT 'EM. Dean and Ben Fehl installed Sunco trash wheels on a Case nutri-till'r 5310 strip-till rig. The floating wheels move trash with very little dirt movement.
The strip-tillers also added Sunco trash wheels. "These work very well and didn't need any adjustment," Ben says. "They just float along, moving only the trash out of the way - very little dirt gets moved."
They added a liquid fertilizer tank to ride on the frame."We have had this in the past, but we had to fabricate brackets to fit this one in place," Ben says. "A hydraulic-powered pump was added so we could turn it on and off and adjust the rate on the go for check strips. To this system, we added a flow indicator setup made by Wilger.
"There is an indicator for each row, so we can see if there is an obstructed or plugged knife."
Liquid fertilizer and anhydrous ammonia rates are both controlled by an AgLeader Insight monitor setup with automatic shutoffs. For anhydrous application, they purchased a high-pressure system made by aNH3 Co.
"This system uses a hydraulic pump to pump the anhydrous through orifices in liquid form to ensure even application across the rows," Ben says. "Each row has its own pressure gauge, so we can see if there is a row that is plugged or obstructed."
Ryan Speer, a Sedgwick, Kan., strip-tiller, says when he first started strip-tilling, he didn't think he needed a berm and thought a level surface was adequate.
NEW APPLICATION SYSTEM. Liquid and anhydrous are controlled by an AgLeader Insight monitor setup with automatic shutoffs.For anhydrous application, Dean and Ben Fehl bought a high-pressure Equaply system made by aNH3 Co.
"I quickly learned that in south central Kansas, we get too much rain and the smooth seedbed turns into a soft V shape over the winter and spring," Speer says. "When you go to plant, the planting depth gauge wheels are riding up on the edges and you don't get the seed planted to the right depth."
The first change he made was to go from packer wheels to berm builders. However, the berm builders were stationary, and did not float like the packer wheels.
"When we hit a large pile of stalks, it would wedge between the application knife and the two berm-building concave discs," Speer says. "So the next change was to make the concave, notched closing discs independent of each other and spring-loaded."
After 3 years of adjustments, Speer feels his strip-till rig is ready to perform in the many different soil and residue conditions on his farm.
His next step was to variable-rate apply three products at one time through one monitor, which also controls the RTK auto-steer unit.
"I am applying anhydrous ammonia, liquid fertilizer and injecting N-Serve all at the same time," he says.
Mark Seipel says that over the course of 15 years he has seen various homemade, conventional-style, frame-mounted, disc cleaning devises.
BETTER BERMS. Concave, notched, spring-loaded closing discs, working independently of each other, replaced stationary berm builders that did not float. "When we hit a large pile of stalks, it would wedge between the application knife and the two berm-building concave discs," strip-tiller Ryan Speer says.
"They had an inherent problem - the mounting arms were restricting soil flow and had difficulty keeping the scraper in consistent contact with the blades while allowing the blades to turn freely," says Seipel, a sales manager for Floratine BioSciences.
His goal was to eliminate mounting arms. "Knowing the durability and design of the Yetter D-bolt hub assembly used on several anhydrous ammonia closing discs and strip-till berm builders, I made a scraper that mounted to the D bolt rather than the mounting arm. This was the first steel, hub-mounted design to fit the concave blade and proved the basic principal would work."
Made from steel, the blade would not flex to follow the variation "waves" of the blades, Seipel says. The original scraper design would keep the blade clean when it made contact; however, when away from the blade, a thin layer of soil built up.
"This acted like a brake when the scraper came in contact with soil on the next revolution," he says. "With this, I discovered that the scraper needed to flex and be in contact with the blade at all times. I researched various plastic materials that would offer good wear characteristics and flex to keep in consistent contact with the concave blade."
Seipel says it led him to work with Poly Tech, which refined the mounting and scraper to its current design - a double-edged, hub-mounted scraper that currently fits the Yetter 2965-128 hub and bearing assembly. It fits 12- and 18-inch blades, as well as notched free-floating and smooth spring-loaded Yetter closing disc models 2920-012 and 2920-016. It also fits the Redball/Wil-Rich strip-till unit with 18-inch berm builders.
Avoid These Mistakes If You Strip-Till This Spring
In many parts of the Midwest, a late harvest followed by an early winter left many strip-tillers unable to complete their fall passes. If that describes your situation, you'll want to be sure that you avoid the following mistakes commonly seen with spring strip-tilling.
CONSTANT CONTACT. These blades mount on the center D bolt rather than a mounting arm. Made from plastic, they flex so the scraper can stay in contact with the blade, keeping soils from building up on them.
1. "Shallowing-up" the strip-till implement if you believe soils are too wet.
When growers are applying fertilizer in the spring with strip-till units, placement remains important to avoid seedling root damage or root burn.
"If soil conditions are that wet, then you should wait until the soil moisture has dried to a condition of 75% of field capacity or less," says Mike Peterson, an agronomist with Orthman Mfg. "This way, you can greatly reduce sidewall compaction, smearing, ribbon forms of clods, the possibility of a very uneven seedbed and divots that will cause planter bounce.
"All this comes from the roller-coaster action of the planter in an uneven seedbed. Even a good planter will ultimately leave seeds on the surface or 2 to 4 inches deep, resulting in poor stands."
2. Running the strip-till implement in the exact same row as last year's corn, grain sorghum or sunflower crop, causing divots, craters and root balls in the strip.
If you're pulling the strip-till implement in the same path as last year's standing or remaining stalks (corn, sunflowers, etc.), the root ball and stalk may not have deteriorated enough over the winter and will create a cavity and uneven seedbed, Peterson says.
"The planter will bounce and ride up and down. What ensues will be a very uneven stand due to little or no seed depth control," Peterson says. "It's a farmer's worst enemy to top-producing yields."
3. Utilizing a too-narrow knife on the strip-till shank when running in the spring.
"All of us know what it's like to pull a knife through cream cheese. A slot can be all that there is to show for the work," Peterson says. "You can have the same effect in the spring with a knife point that's too narrow."
Peterson says that if seeds drop into the slot, they may not germinate or be weak when the plant finally comes out of the ground. Sidewall smear is likely happening, which may cause problems with volatilization of urea-based products, drying out the seedling root and eventual loss of stand.
"The seedbed and early root zone will not be tilled as one would want and the crop's rooting pattern will be compromised for the rest of the growing season. Check with your strip-till dealer or rep on the best knife for your soil conditions," Peterson says.
Vern Williamson, sales and marketing manager at Progressive Farm Products, says using a mole knife may not give you the right berm conditions in the spring.
"Mole knives can create air pockets and you don't want to build as large of a mound in the spring as you would do in the fall," he says.
4. Use caution with anhydrous ammonia applications.
"Make sure you wait at least 10 days between when you apply anhydrous ammonia and plant," Williamson says.
Depth control of fertilizer placement is critical, too.
"In the spring, you want to make sure your knife is running 6 to 7 inches deep," he adds. "That will keep the fertilizer at least 4 inches away from the seed. A parallel row unit works the best because it will keep a constant depth."
Could Strip-Till Corn Stands Suffer In 'Loose' Soil?
Last year, Paul Jasa experienced a lot of downed corn in a strip-till demonstration with irrigated corn-on-corn.
What he found is that it may be possible for the soil in strips to be loosened to the extent that they don't hold corn plants well.
"Most of the rooting was concentrated in the loosened strip-tilled area and the roots didn't spread out much into the rest of the soil profile," the University of Nebraska engineer says. "The same two hybrids were planted the same day into continuous no-till on one side of the strip-till plot and into a double-disc plot on the other side. In both of those plots, the corn stood fine.
"The continuous no-till corn had a much better root structure and didn't go down."
Jasa adds the combine operator also noted a difference in standability and harvestability, and the strip-till plots yielded about 25% less than the no-tilled plot.
"I've found that the loosened, tilled strips - when compared to the undisturbed areas between the rows - are the least uniform rooting conditions you can have," says Jasa, who adds he's a fan of continuous no-till, but acknowledges strip-till is a better system than full-width tillage. "Yes, using strip-till to cut through a root-restricting compaction layer may be of benefit, but if the soil structure is good - like it is in continuous no-till - then strip-till doesn't help.
"Downed corn is a thing of the past for us since we've been using continuous no-till and planting at least 2 inches deep to develop a good root system."