“Educational” is the most print-friendly, paraphrased response I’ve gotten when asking strip-tillers to summarize their 2019 operational goals vs. reality.
Preliminary data from the 12th Annual No-Till Farmer Benchmark Study shows that strip-tillers averaged near 195 bushels per acre for corn and 57 bushels per acre for soybeans in 2019. Both averages are lower than recent years, but still highest among no-till, minimum till, vertical tillage and conventional tillage, according to initial benchmark data.
While a few farmers wrote off the environmental extremes of the last year as unique, most say the experience encouraged them to experiment with change — however subtle — heading into this spring.
So, what changes are strip-tillers planning to make, and more importantly, why? Nobody I talked to planned a ‘knee-jerk’ overreaction to the lessons learned from the last year, but changes ranged from refining nutrient placement to enhancing soil function.
With the hope of expanding his planting window, Bethany, Ill., strip-tiller Clint Robinson added Yetter Strip-Fresheners to an old John Deere 1770 planter frame, which he plans to run across his fall strip-tilled acres going to corn.
Strip-Till Farmer’s most recent benchmark study, which analyzed 2018 cropping operations, showed that only about 12% of respondents made a strip-freshening pass, but it will be interesting to see if that percentage changed in 2019 and what 2020 will bring.
Robinson also plans to apply fertilizer 2½-3-inches deep in the strip during his freshening pass, likely a mix of 32% nitrogen (N) and ammonium thiosulfate, which eliminate fertilizer application at planting.
“Can we incorporate a bioreactor in the spring of 2020 to have it active, see some benefits in 2021. Could I actually get this biomass on the seed in quantities to do something with it, or apply it as a pop-up fertilizer?...”
“While I’ll be making a separate pass, I’m hoping to gain some efficiency by getting nutrients to plants earlier,” he says. “Planting those seeds about 2 inches deep, I’m looking to have plants take off a little earlier than they would, especially if it’s another wet spring.”
Lafayette, Ind., strip-tiller Gary Gangwer is also planning adjustments to his early-season fertility program, with the objective of preserving banded nutrients. He’s looking to band 50 pounds per acre of starch encapsulated urea about 7 inches deep ahead of strip-tilled corn and also 50 pounds per acre of pell lime ahead of soybeans.
“One of my main objectives out of 2019 is to do more with working with different nutrient application experiments to try and prevent leaching and looking at what we’re applying and when,” Gangwer says.
LaHarpe, Ill., strip-tiller Gary Schroeder sees opportunity in focusing on fungi vs. bacteria on his corn and soybean operation. “Though I have seen cover crops generate net income for me, maybe there's some things I need to be looking at that makes the fungi more dominant in the soil,” he says. “Two or 3 years ago, I wouldn’t have listened to a talk, let alone gone to a second talk on a bioreactor.
“But I'm starting to think, ‘Okay. Can we incorporate a bioreactor in the spring of 2020 to have it active, see some benefits in 2021? Could I actually get this biomass on the seed in quantities to do something with it, or apply it as a pop-up fertilizer?”
As strip-tillers prepare for spring, we hope they find some additional ideas, solutions and tips in this issue to prepare for planting and the growing season.