Strip-tiller finds corn yields take a healthy jump — while fertilizer rates and costs decrease — by placing nutrients with precision.

Jordan Bennett likes strip-till for the time and money it saves, the crop residue it leaves to protect sandy soils from blowing around, and for the water it conserves.

But the Hermiston, Ore., strip-tiller loves the precise, efficient fertilizer placement of his one-pass strip-tilling and planting system.

Bennett was one of the three recipients of the Responsible Nutrient Management awards given by Agro-Culture Liquid Fertilizers and No-Till Farmer at the 2011 National No-Tillage Conference held earlier this month in Cincinnati.

“Strip-tilling and precisely placing fertilizer just makes sense,” says Bennett. “The strip-till tools are expensive, but I save so much money, water time and equipment by strip-tilling my row crops. There are farmers using conventional tillage who make four or five trips or more before planting.”

One-Pass System

Bennett started strip-tilling in 2008, after the price of corn shot up, fueled by the national boom in biofuels production.

Today, Bennett uses a one-pass system to strip-till, fertilizer and plant 800 of his own acres of corn and custom farm another 3,000 acres of corn.

“Strip-tilling allows me to save money on time, diesel and equipment,” Bennett says.

Bennett spent several years checking out strip-till rigs before buying a 12-row and an eight-row Orthman 1tRIPr. Bennett uses his 12-row 1tRIPr with a John Deere 1770 CCS Max Emerge 12-row planter on 30-inch spacings.

“Depending on the field, the previous crop and the soil type, I’m shooting for less than 1 pound of nitrogen per bushel of corn. We can do 300-bushel corn here in the Columbia River Basin, but you’ve got to put water on the crops, whether it’s corn, hay, wheat or vegetables.

“Wind erosion is a serious problem in the Columbia River Basin, where soils mainly consist of blow sand,” Bennett says. “I strip-till my corn to minimize wind erosion, and I band Agro-Culture liquid fertilizer with my no-till corn planter to maximize the efficient use of the fertilizer.

“Strip-tilling isn’t just about saving time,” he adds. “It also maintains the crop residue. That’s important on the sandy ground here in the Columbia Basin. It’s very prone to blowing. With conventional tillage, farmers working this sand before planting must put water on it with a center pivot to keep it from blowing. If they don’t, they can have 2 feet of sand in drifts in a day. Using water just to keep the sand from blowing is inefficient. You can protect it with crop residue.”

Bennett leases ground that’s irrigated by center pivots, no-tilling corn into the residue of previous crops. The typical rotation in the area is potato-wheat-corn-corn-potato. He also strip-tills and plants into alfalfa, winter wheat, sweet pea stubble, as well as other vegetable crops grown in the area.

“The 1tRIPr has a ripper shank, which breaks up compaction when I no-till my corn,” Bennett says. “The strip-till rig moves residue to the side. Strip-tilling leaves the soil structure between the 30-inch rows undisturbed, and the planter variable-rate applies the fertilizer.”

Increasing Yields

Like many strip-tillers and no-tillers, he’s heard the words of skeptics.

“Some farmers in the area say ‘no-till, no yield.’ In fact, the first year that I strip-tilled, I had a field by the highway that skeptics called ‘pygmy corn’ early in the growing season,” he says. “But later on, you could have put a board across the tassels. The stand was that uniform.”

The average yield for grain corn that’s conventionally tilled in Umatilla County is 250 bushels per acre. Bennett’s strip-tilled corn for grain averages 310 bushels per acre.

“Our yields have been better with strip-till than they were with conventional tillage,” Bennett says. “It’s a matter of efficiently using water and placing fertilizer where the seed needs it. When you broadcast fertilizer, you hope the seed gets to it.”

Bennett has a complete soil test taken before planting. The fertilizer that’s applied in the planter band is custom-blended, based on the results of the soil tests.

During the growing season, three complete leaf tests are taken between V5 and silking. Any nutrients that are needed are then applied through the center-pivot irrigation system.

“At silking, a soil nitrogen test is also taken with the leaf sample,” Bennett says. “This testing program allows me to use less fertilizer as I only apply what the crop needs. Corn yields also increase when the soil fertility is in balance.”

Fertilizing Precisely

Liquid fertilizer is banded with the corn planter at 3 gallons per acre of 9-24-3 Pro-Germinator, along with 4 gallons per acre of 2-1-6 Sure-K, 3 gallons per acre of 24-0-0 High NRG-N, 0.25 gallons per acre of Micro 500 and 0.25 gallons per acre of 3% LiberateCa calcium.

During the growing season, approximately 40 gallons per acre of 27-0-0-1 High NRG-N are applied, along with 0.25 gallons per acre of 5% boron.

“These amounts vary from field to field, based on the results of soil fertilizer tests,” Bennett notes.

If 32% UAN is applied, Bennett also uses eNhance, a product from Agro-Culture Liquid Fertilizers. “Using eNhance stabilizes the free ammonia and improves nitrogen uptake from the corn.”

“Most of the low-salt liquid phosphorus, potassium and micronutrients are applied in-furrow at planting with Keeton seed firmers,” Bennett says. “A low-salt nitrogen is applied, too, at a low rate in the furrow. If the soil test results indicate that more than 10 pounds per acre of nitrogen are needed, it’s placed 2 inches below the seed. When the in-season soil test and leaf-tissue tests indicate that nutrients are needed, they are usually injected with the water put on by the center pivot or in a foliar application.”

Bennett has John Deere’s RTK in his John Deere 8430 tractor he uses for strip-tilling and planting in one pass. He also uses auto-steer in his combine and creates yield maps to seed areas where fertilizer, sprinkler compaction and water issues need attention.

He’s starting out with variable-rate fertilizer application, which he controls from the cab.

“If we go over a really sandy area, I can change the rate from 10 pounds to 30 pounds. I would like to go to 100% variable rate, based on prescriptions from soil test results.”