In Northern climates, getting crops planted early is the key for a successful harvest.

"The Land of 10,000 Lakes" — is a haven for fishermen, boaters and water skiers with its abundant supply of water.

Strip-tillage can help growers dry and warm soils quickly and provide the erosion-control beneifts of no-till. (NRCS photo)

While water is a vital resource, an overabundance of springtime moisture, combined with cool temperatures, makes no-till a challenge in the state.

Whereas some farmers opt for tillage, Cottonwood, Minn., producer Don Bot uses strip-till to get the best of both worlds — a tillage system to dry and warm soils quickly, and the erosion control benefits of no-till.

Bot uses tandem-hitched John Deere 750 drills to no-till 16 rows of corn in 22-inch rows. He also uses the John Deere 750 drills for soybeans.

“To me, strip-till creates the best environment to plant no-till corn into the next spring,” says Bot. “Strip-till gives us a significant yield boost and it’s very economical.”

Clean Rows

The key to strip-till is clearing residue in fall so you can plant into a clean row in the spring, says Bot.

With this in mind, he created a homemade rig made from a 30-foot, front-folding corn planter frame that is set up to deep-band nitrogen, phosphorus, potash and zinc.

The rig is equipped with coulters, anhydrous knives and closing disks. Two sets of dry fertilizer boxes for phosphorus and potash and a mirconutrient box for zinc are mounted in front of the rig.

“It has a standard anhydrous knife, and the dry fertilizer comes down right behind the knife,” he describes. “The coulter runs in front of the knife.”

Bot set his rig up 5 years ago. If he were to concoct another unit, he would start with a large chisel-plow-type frame.

“I’d use a coulter or double coulter up front, leaving plenty of room between the coulter and anhydrous knife,” he says. “Yetter’s new parallel-linkage coulters should work real well for fall strip-tillage.”

Fall Fertility Program

As a Minnesota farmer, Bot is able to apply anhydrous in the fall. But in some parts of the country that wouldn't be a good management practice.

“Research shows we can fall-apply anhydrous because it’s cold enough that nothing is going to happen to it over winter,” he explains. “We try to put anhydrous down as deep as we can. We are pulling 16 knives behind a 300-horsepower tractor. If we go any deeper than 6 inches, we can’t move the machine.”

Bot places dry fertilizer 4 inches deep so it will be below the seed, but cautions others not to place the seed into the fertilizer band.

“I still have a lot of faith in the old starter fertilizer placement method of 2 inches down and 2 inches over,” he says.

With this system, Bot applies all his fertilizer in the fall. His first priority after combining soybeans is strip-tilling.

“Strip-till should be done in the fall,” he emphasizes. “I would be very afraid to go out there and mess up the seedbed in the spring unless it was really early in April. By going out in the fall, you have the whole winter for the zone to heal. Moisture will become uniform and settle in to create a nice seedbed to seed into in the spring.”

Why Deep-Band?

If you’re putting down fertilizer with strip till, it needs to be deep-banded, Bot emphasizes.

“By banding phosphorus, potassium and zinc, we can put on half the recommended broadcast rate and get equal results as far as yield,” he says. “Banding doesn’t blend the fertilizer as much with the soil, so it stays concentrated in one zone where the roots can find it quickly.”

Strip-till also speeds the release of nutrients.

“With no-till, you’re building organic matter,” he explains. “Strip-tillage introduces oxygen into the soil allowing for faster mineralization of organic matter, which releases nutrients and makes them available to the corn plant.”

Going High-Tech

Bot also uses variable fertilizer rates with the help of a Global Positioning System (GPS).

“The GPS system provides reference points from any point in a field,” he explains. “We then take soil samples following the grids created from GPS maps.”

The soil sample results are then run through a software program that uses soil test recommendation formulas to calculate fertilizer application rates.

Bot has a Falcon controller in his tractor cab that uses this software program to regulate the fertilizer rates being applied by the deep-banding rig.

“It’s a very simple machine,” he says. “Basically, it’s a 486 computer. It will tell you what fertilizer rate you’re applying as you travel along the field.”

The basic Falcon unit costs about $10,000, according to Bot. “This is a high-tech electronic device,” he says. “Even though you think it’s working good, these types of systems become obsolete very quickly. You need to have it pay for itself in three years or less.”

“In our operation, fall deep-banding is of more economic value than variable-rate applications. Adding the variable rate becomes more challenging, allowing you to use some nice equipment.”

“It’s a learning experience. You get to see the variability in the field and you start paying a lot more attention to what’s out there.”