More than 300 growers and industry professionals from across the globe gathered in Omaha, Neb., in early August for the 8th annual National Strip-Tillage Conference (NSTC). At the event, growers dove into topics related to strip-till management, soil health, cover crops and increasing profits from their operations.
If you couldn’t make it to the NSTC, don’t worry — we’ve summarized the top 10 takeaways:
1. Doing the Little Things
David Hula, a no-till and strip-till corn yield contest champion from Charles City, Va., shared with attendees that focusing on things as simple as seed orientation or placing fertilizer directly in the strip, rather than broadcasting, can boost your yields.
2. More Weight = More Corn
Hula also noted that growers can achieve higher corn yields through more kernels per ear, increased weight and planting narrower rows. According to Hula, moisture is the single most important thing corn needs to produce more uniform kernels.
3. Soil is the Most Complex System
In the conference’s Premier Lecture Series sponsored by TruAg, and Ontario ag engineer and earthworm expert Odette Ménard said growers need to know details on their soil texture, water-holding capacity and soil organic matter. Soil texture can’t be changed, but water-holding capacity and soil organic matter can be improved for better soil health.
4. Establishing Cereal Rye in the North
The Strip-Till Innovator program, sponsored by Montag Mfg., recognized Ben Pederson, Lake Mills, Iowa, with the 2021 Strip-Till Innovator Award. Pederson says getting cereal rye established at his northern latitude is challenging for him, but it’s worth it. The cereal rye comes up after the soybean harvest, but before the first frost. He adapted his Soil Warrior strip-till rig to seed cereal rye while making strips in the fall.
5. Roller-Crimp Rye and Vetch Together
Megan Wallendal, a strip-tiller from Grand Marsh, Wis., achieves a 95% clean field by roller-crimping a cereal rye cover crop in a variety of crops. The first year she tried the practice, her rye seed had vetch in it. Because it was going into a conventional field rather than an organic one, she decided to use it anyway, because she could terminate the vetch in other ways if the roller-crimping didn’t work. But she found that the vetch climbed the rye and made a nice mat of residue while effectively preventing weeds. Now when she buys rye seed, she makes sure it contains vetch.
6. Strip-Till Yields More
Purdue University agronomist Tony Vyn has conducted research in Indiana over several years comparing strip-till, chisel plow, moldboard plow and no-till on 30-inch corn and soybeans. Fall strip-tilling compares favorably with fields tilled with a chisel plow or moldboard plow and outperforms no-till, providing a 20-bushel yield advantage.
7. Reduce Tillage, Improve Soil Health
Wayne Fredericks, a strip-tiller from Osage, Iowa, shared that he’d lost two-thirds of his soil organic matter (SOM) to tilling over the course of 19 years. With 1% of SOM being equivalent to 10 tons of soil, replacing what he’d lost was no small task, but since switching to no-till in 1992 and strip-till in 2002, he’s seen his SOM levels rise 2.5 points over 25 years.
8. Yields Drop with Excess Spring Rain
Jerry Hatfield, retired USDA plant physiologist, showed data from 25 years of Fredericks’ corn yields. The data showed that yields were reduced by as much as 50-60 bushels per acre when planting was delayed due to an excess of up to 5 inches of spring rain. On the flip side, yields were went up in most areas where rainfall occurred in July and September — a critical time when crops use the most water.