As you’re planning for the 2022 growing season, it never hurts to reflect on lessons learned in past years.

This week, we’re revisiting Strip-Till Farmer’s top 5 most played episodes of 2021 to share highlights from conversations that resonated most with other strip-tillers. Some are even among the most listened to episodes ever since we started this podcast in 2016, including our #1 episode of the year, “Biological Farming with Gary Zimmer.”

Listen in as notable names like Zimmer, David Hula, Don Reicosky and more share their methods for improving soil health, secrets to increasing yields, lessons from strip-tilling, type of equipment they’re running, how the carbon cycle affects crops, transitioning to organic and more.

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Want to hear more from the guests on today’s episodes? Listen to the full conversations below:

  1. Biological Farming with Gary Zimmer
  2. Understanding The Carbon Cycle With Don Reicosky
  3. Building Soil Health And Profitability With Strip-Till
  4. Breaking Through Yield Barriers With Strip-Till Part 1
  5. Jason Federer’s Organic Modified Strip-Till System

 

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Michaela Paukner:

I'm Michaela Paukner, associate editor of Strip-Till Farmer. Welcome to this episode of the Strip-Till Farmer podcast series. I encourage you to subscribe to this series wherever you get your podcasts. Subscribing allows you to receive an alert about new episodes when they released. Thanks to Terrasym by NewLeaf Symbiotics for supporting this podcast series. Want to do more in 2022, now available in convenient planter box application. Terrasym by NewLeaf Symbiotics is proven by Beck's 2021 PFR to improve yield by 2.7 bushels per acre in soybeans, and 4.6 bushels per acre in corn. It also nets $20,000 more incremental income with every 1,000 acres planted. To calculate your ROI and purchase Terrasym for only $4.35 per acre, visit newleafsym.com/2022. That's new leaf s-y-m.com/2022.

Michaela Paukner:

As you're planning for the 2022 growing season, it never hurts to reflect on lessons learned in past years. That's what we're doing in today's episode of the Strip-Till Farmer podcast. This week, I'm revisiting Strip-Till Farmer's top five most played episodes of 2021 to share highlights from conversations that resonated most with other strip-tillers. Some are even among the most listened to episodes ever, since we started this podcast in 2016; including our number one episode of the year, Biological Farming with Gary Zimmer. Zimmer is known as the father of biological farming, a system in which farmers work with nature to create healthy mineralized soils, to produce pest and disease resistant crops while reducing chemical inputs. Let's join this lively conversation as Zimmer recalls a philosophy that completely changed his farm.

Gary Zimmer:

Carey Reams was a doctor out of Florida, him and Dr. [Albrecht 00:02:12] some of the... In the twenties, thirties, and forties, biological farming was really on a roll and chemicals came along and it got set on the back burner for 50 years. But he kept saying, if you really truly have a biological actor cell, you won't have earth twins. And everybody kind of booed him and laughed at everybody. Oh that guy, I think he was right. And so now we completely changed our farm. We don't take off any corn stocks. We only milk a hundred cows and we take our hay off for certain fields. And most that... Where we make hay, we leave it close to home because we don't want... Because we got manure to haul, back. I don't want to haul manure... And so anyway, all the straw stays. When this dry is [inaudible 00:02:48] by this summer, the straw stays, the corn stalks there from last year.

Gary Zimmer:

Now we got all this complex carbon. What do you think is happening? Earthworm populations are growing and our organic ranch is going to go up, because now we're farming for that. What are you farming for? I was at a guy that's got 500 acres of hemp and he's asking me about growing corn, and he's got a thousand acre farm. And I said, I'm confused. If you're going to make $20,000, or 30,000, or $50,000 an acre growing hemp, why are you pissing around the corn bean? Why don't you make one year soil building and one year hemp? Why don't you spend that year putting in covered crops and minerals and putting iron manure and getting it ready? Vegetable producers do this all the time. In Washington, DC, there's Potomac Farms, 50 acres of vegetables. That's a million dollar CSA, 25 acres getting ready to farm and 25 acres farming. It's too damn much work and vegetables are hard on soil.

Gary Zimmer:

You're planting Radishes and you're tilling, and you plant this, then you do that. And that, and it's a lot of tillage. It beats up soil for that year, but you got to give it the rest in the next year. If I was going to do hemp at $20,000 an acre, there's no damn way I throw corn of my rotation. So we've looked at all these things... Where we take on this new land. I... We just took some over by us... Three to $500 an acre on fertilizer in two years to get it organic. And for two years, nothing but cover crops and minerals, and getting those minerals in the carbon biological cycle. So we might have five to $700 an acre in it before we start to farm it, but then we've already fixed it. And from now on, we can go bumper crops with just a small amount of inputs.

Gary Zimmer:

You see if you don't ever fix it, you struggle to get a halfway decent crop. And the weeds take over and you get a poor crop. You don't have any money. If you just bite the bullet and fix it. Now, every land doesn't need to be fixed. I said the farm might tell guys that you want to buy. You got to buy the farm from the dairyman that went broke by buying too much fertilizer. That's the farm you need to buy. And now just drove covered [inaudible 00:04:41]... All you got to do is be out healthy. Already got lots of minerals. So this farm right here, we make money growing corn. This is kind of a year off. Someone says, well, you aren't going to make any money in that rye. I said, no, you got to look at the system. We're one year corn, one year sold, but one year corn one year sold.

Gary Zimmer:

And we combine rye, if there's some to combine. That crop fails, we don't care. So I got the grain elevator, so we got to clean her. So we'll have about... We got about five, 600 acres of rye this year, just like this. Now about a third of it following sweet corn and seed corn got planted in October. The rest of it got planted... This got planted in December. And what do you see down below? Lots of clover and lots of alfalfa. So, this was in last fall. She came out here and took the fertilizer spreader. And we normally seed a bushel and a half where we drill it in which we prefer. This is three bushel and acre, just bulk spread. And then we came in March. My son can do 250 acres in a four noon with a four-wheeler and a Cedar on back or side by side.

Gary Zimmer:

It holds about 500 pounds of seed, 25 miles an hour, flying across these fields, spreading the seed on in March on frozen ground. And that's kind of what you get Clover, alfalfa... There's four different varieties of Clover in here, and then there's alfalfa. So they also put on March and the rye was put on in December. Now, the other fields were done drilled in and that was planted in October, the rye was, but it was done on the same concept. We don't make any money on rye. Forty bushel an acre and $10 a bushel. That's $400 an acre, but we... Rye is just something in, to give us this cover crop, to give us our nutrients to grow corn. We grow seed corn. We make a lot of money grow on seed corn. We get the first contracts, right? So we have those guys... We have... Our target average on seed corn is 40 bushel of which we get about $2,000 an acre and they bring the seed and they harvest it.

Gary Zimmer:

We got to color and plant and all these kind of things ANDAs but anything over 40 bushels, we get another $40 a bushel. Last year, we had some 70 bushels, some 84 bushel corn. Now you can put a pencil that sucker all day long. So anyway that this is Howard Farms and this will be seed corn next year. And we can probably net $2,000 an acre on it. And this year we probably won't make any money. You divide that out 2000 next year, maybe conventional corn, 200 bushel corn, and we get $10 or $9 a bushel, $1,800 an acre. This year, we get 400 That's $2200 over two years, $1,100 a year. And now we got our expenses. We have nothing in this except seed. Now someone said, yeah that clover seed. We get $40 an acre in clover seed. We spend on an average $40, an acre for seed cover crop seed and everything else.

Gary Zimmer:

I said, that's our fertilizer. That's our whole fertilizer budget. So that's why this year, now when rye is combine all the straw and everything will stay here, whatever rye seed we get, we take down to... We use... We need about quite a bit ourselves. Cause we got six, 700 acres of rye. So we need a couple thousand bushel ourselves. And then we'll flail mow this down to make sure no weeds go to seed. And then last fall... There'll be weeds in it, but see it's in August, we fail mow it, so the weeds aren't going to be going to seed. They freeze. You'll see them out in there. Some weeds that make no seeds in them, and the Clover and the alfalfa will be this tall. So now we're feeding earthworms. And now we got all these [inaudible 00:07:53], and now our organic matter is created, and see what are the rules to soil health?

Gary Zimmer:

First you got to feed and create living roots in the soil. Look around, that's what this farm is. Then you got to feed them. You can't have just corn stalks and soybean stuff. Well, my gosh, how you get bacteria fed and then you... And then lot of guys, aren't no telling because you get such a crust on top. There's got to breathe. Those are living live organisms and they got to breathe. That's why all the residues shallowly worked in and we're real believers in shallow incorporating residues. That's what all these tools are meant to do. And I don't mind cutting a slot to make sure.... Because I can't really get water out, because he'd drown. And then we run big, deep rippers. Our rippers just cut a slot. We go down 13 to 15 inches deep with these tines. It just looks like they cut a slot in the ground and they're 20 inches apart and they pick it up.

Gary Zimmer:

So what the no-till guy taught us, is you can't plow digging disc every year, every acre you destroy soils, but that's extreme. What the strip-till guys, because the no-till guys... A lot of guys fail doing that. Cause they weren't ready. You got to earn the right not to till. You just can't stop tilling for crying out loud. You know what failure looks like. Your ground is hard and dead as my driveway. And you're going to quick tillage. That's the last thing you need to do. Why don't you feed and get your soil right first and then quick tillage. So the strip-till guys, they taught us it's 10 degrees warmer in that little strip, but in that zone the soil warrior. You familiar with the soil warrior. That was developed by one of my customer-friends from Minnesota. Mark Bower. Fairmont Minnesota built that. And he used to run with Ray Ross.

Gary Zimmer:

Whose a good friend of mine. The Ross and strip-till guys. I got to know all those guys really well. But anyway, Mark had stones at Fairmont Minnesota. So he built that rolling blades and tines and even though they got little fingers on him that was all designed with John Deere equipment. But he couldn't afford to take it to market. He had to sell the company, Environmental Technologies bought it and it had those rolling blades. So it didn't rip up stones and it had containment blades on the outside. You could take your penetrometer and boy, it made a huge difference on getting richer. So the strip-till guy said, you got to be able to go deep roots and don't you dare tear middle zone. Do anything you want to that top two or three inches, but middle zone, all the decaying roots and earth swim channels is.

Gary Zimmer:

So chisel plowing does as much damage as no-till plowing. And they say, oh I did chisel and I did no-till, but see both of them tear up middle zone, leave the damn middle zone alone. But that zones Ross say you can do anything you want to the top two or three inches, but all those residues in and make sure it can breathe or water soaks in and all those kind of things take place out here. And then the little earthworm channels and the dead decay roots are tubes for the roots to go down. Well, the [inaudible 00:10:26] radish out here that Steve Groth... They did a measure in a half inch circle around that root is really high in nutrients because it, the plant takes half its photosynthates and feeds the bacteria. And then when that spews out, guess where they live right around the roots.

Gary Zimmer:

So if your next crop is going down that and the earthworm channels, what seven times higher in phosphorous, 11 times higher in potassium than the ground it ate it's way through. So that root can go down the earthworm casting or down different decay root. It's tapped into different soil than your soil test that you got. They're not the same. See that's why... You mix it all together. What's homogenized out here? I see... I went... I'm a dairy guy and these guys in Arizona sent me a salt test and it was 14% sodium. And I said, you can't grow alfalfa has 14% sodium. Then I stood in the alfalfa field. It was really, really nice alfalfa. I went to Philip Brocks at the university here in Madison. He's quite an interesting character we to work with. So I went to Phil and I said, gosh, how is... He said... He started laughing.

Gary Zimmer:

He said, "What do you think that soil is homogenized? It hasn't gone through a blender. There's spots in that soil, where there's probably 25% sodium. And there's spots that there's 1% sodium." So he said, "The rich Dodge, the 25% and they grow where the one is." So they're not growing in a 14% sodium soil. They... That's stupid. It's not a homogenized mix. Yeah. You think about that. We, we do our sub-sowing in August, September. If it needs to be ripped with that big deep ripper to make sure we got water infiltrate. So water standing is a problem, because then it's not soaking in. In some years, if it's too dry or too wet, it doesn't work. It's got to get the right conditions. It's like taking a knife through butter. If it's liquid, you didn't do anything. And if it was really hard, you didn't do anything either.

Gary Zimmer:

You had to pull it back up because you couldn't get it in it frozen. Now it's hard. If it's the right conditions, you want to get a little bit of sidewall compaction. Otherwise, in the middle of a drought, ground gets cracks in it. Is that sub-sowing? Absolutely not. The minute gets wet, goes it right back like it was. You got to get a little sidewall compaction, and the secret is to get roots to grow down it. And that's what the strip-till guys... In the beginning, those striper guys put nitrogen down 15 inches deep to get the roots to grow. What stops roots? Soluble fertilizer. And of course that's why the farmers used to say in the spring, if you're planting dust in the fall, your bins will bust. A lot of guys planted in dust this spring, which was kind of nice for them. So moisture has an impact in soluble nutrients. You put your fertilizer in that and you'll drive those roots down. Once you get those roots down in there, like I said you leave alone. So that's why we look at this whole thing here as a rotation.

Michaela Paukner:

Our second most played episode of 2021 is understanding the carbon cycle with Don Reicosky, a USDA soil scientist and leading expert on carbon cycle management in agriculture. Here he explains the carbon cycle and shares his opinions on strip-tillage.

Don Reicosky:

But in agriculture, when we understand the carbon cycling where the carbon is captured in the process of photosynthesis, some goes into the roots, some goes to feed the microbes and fungi there, but a good portion of that carbon goes into the ear of corn that we take and either eat or process or feed the cattle. And when we capture that carbon, it's also released when we consume it. There's also a release through plant respiration as the organic matter decomposes, and it goes back to carbon dioxide and there's work that shows that when you have crop and some work done in England, they used radioactive tracers to show that when that material was put back on the soil and worked in with tillage, you lose 70% of the carbon in one year. That's what I call the carbon cycling is.

Don Reicosky:

And it's the rapid portion of the cycle. So carbon cycling versus carbon sequestration. And so I don't like the term sequestration in agriculture. We need to do our part for minimizing what goes into the atmosphere from fossil fuels, but I want to maintain food productivity. And the carbon is the energy for this soil plant atmosphere system that produces 95% of the food that we consume. When you talk about carbon sequestration, that's good from a fossil fuel standpoint, but from a food production standpoint, I think we need carbon cycling in our agricultural systems. And that's where the little critters in the soil and the concept of living soil is the ones that we're trying to nurture, but they're also helping recycle the nutrients, recycle the carbon to maintain this carbon cycling that's important to us and food production. What my concern is about the difference is we have people who have been through... Away from the farm for three generations.

Don Reicosky:

When they hear the word carbon and they're trying to minimize the fossil fuel that goes in, that says, that's bad for the atmosphere. Well, carbon from fossil fuels is a big contributor to the global warming, and the greenhouse effect, but carbon in agriculture is the foundation of our food production system. And it needs to be cycled to get the food to come off of this living process. And so, there's a difference between what we do to sequester carbon from an environmental perspective and what we must do in terms of cycling carbon from a food production perspective.

Frank Lessiter:

So I've heard you speak about one third of the carbon being in the grain, one third in the upper part of the plant and one third in the root zone. So when we do tillage and we lose this, is it all coming from the root zone?

Don Reicosky:

Well, we're exporting about one third of it in the grain, and then the one third of the biomass is there. If we, till it in, it goes in and it composes very quickly. And occasionally you might see some corn cobs maybe two years after a corn crop. But most of the time it's decomposed relatively rapidly. And that's the part of the cycling that is important to us. The one third of the roots is the... And there's there's evidence to show that the roots are the most important component or contributor to the soil carbon that's that stays there. Some of that carbon comes in as acidates, like sugary materials. And they talk about a cocktail of acidates that are provided for the whole population in the soil, in terms of the microbes and fungi and all the other ones. And, but the roots are also a little more tough and tenuous. And so they seem to last a little longer.

Don Reicosky:

And so there's some work that, well, we wrote an article on it and some Canadian fellows that showed that the roots were the largest contributor to the accumulation of soil carbon in any system.

Frank Lessiter:

I take it you're a big believer in no-till and less tillage the better is that correct?

Don Reicosky:

Well, I'm on a campaign, a one man band trying to eliminate the word tillage from our vocabulary. And I'm a proponent of conservation agriculture. The three principles of conservation agriculture. They're also the same three primary principles of soil health and the same three primary principles of regenerative ag. These two other buzzwords have come on. And I want to promote a minimum soil disturbance. I want to promote continuous crop residue, cover residue mat on the surface. And then I want to con... Promote diverse rotations and cover crop mixes because that's the combination that gets the maximum carbon coming into the system. And with the minimum soil disturbance it's the minimum carbon loss from the soil system. And so I'm a big promoter of no-till or direct seating, zero till whatever you want to call it, but I don't like the term conservation tillage for what I already explained to you.

Frank Lessiter:

Right. And you're right. So you, you talked just a minute ago or so about the value of putting after corn harvest and putting those stalks, getting them into the ground. Now a no-tiller would pretty much leave them on the surface. Does that make any difference?

Don Reicosky:

No, that's the way... The piece of research that I quoted, that's what happened in that research. But I don't want that residue incorporated because I wanted air on top of the soil surface, protecting the soil surface from raindrop impact, protecting a soil surface from temperature extremes, and just being there as a slowly available source of energy for the living soil system. If you incorporate it, you maximize residue, soil contact, and you spread a big banquet table out for all the microbes and the fungi that are chewing on that. And it goes out very, very quickly. It's decomposes very quickly, but if you leave it on the surface for this protection, it's also a slowly available food source where the night crawlers have to come up and get some of it and drag it back down the microbes at the interface have an opportunity to get it.

Don Reicosky:

And the fungi can expend, extend some of their filaments into it and get what they need out of it. And so from protecting a soil and having a slowly available food source, those two things are pretty important. And that's why we want continuous residue cover organic residue cover on, on the soil 365 days a year.

Frank Lessiter:

What about somebody that no-tills or beans, but uses some type of minimum tillage or strip till on corn?

Don Reicosky:

Well, strip-till is a good practice. And I'm glad to see that there are people doing it. Strip-till just minimizes some of the soil disturbance, but not to the ultimate minimum that you can with no-tillage or direct seeding. I'm happy with seeing the people do the strip-tillage because it's easier for a farmer to see a small zone of tillage and recognize that there sometimes there is a temperature difference in that thing.

Don Reicosky:

Sometimes there's a increased microbial, decomposition and faster nutrient release in that same zone. But ultimately, I hope that we can get down to doing it the way mother nature does it. She doesn't try to disturb the system and doesn't like to have that kind of disturbance. And so I'm happy to see the guys doing the strip-till and going into less and less volume of soil disturbed. And, and we made some measurements with that in terms of the CO2 release. It releases a heck of a lot less CO2 than a deep ripper in the moldboard plow, which is a real benefit from our perspective.

Michaela Paukner:

Before we get to number three on our 2021 list, I'd like to thank our sponsor Terrasym by NewLeaf Symbiotics for supporting the Strip-till Farmer podcast series. Want to do more in 2022? Now available in convenient planter box application. Terrasym by NewLeaf Symbiotics is proven by Becks 2021 PFR to improve you by 2.7 bushels per acre in soybeans, and 4.6 bushels per acre in corn. It also nets $20,000 more in incremental income with every 1000 acres planted to calculate your ROI and purchase Terrasym for only $4.35 per acre visit newleafsym.com/2022. That's new leaf s- y-m.com/2022. Coming in at number three on our 2021 list is building soil health and profitability with strip-till featuring Rock Creek, Minnesota farmer, Jon Stevens lets join the conversation as he discusses how he first started strip-tilling and the equipment adjustments he's made over the years.

Jon Stevens:

2015 came, and one of the neighbors, they had been dealing with strip for a couple years. And they're like, yeah, this is really cool. I wonder. So I built the first, 1.0 version of strip-till was an old [inaudible 00:23:55] row crop cultivator kind of heavy unit, not quite heavy enough for strip-till. Had we only needed to go to down a couple inches to literally just make a burm. It would've worked great, but I wanted to get deep into our profile because of how our soil acts our conventional soil, our unhealthy soil. It, like we said it compacts. So on our conventional till field that first driving rain behind the planter. Now the guys are out there with rotary heroes to bust that crust. And in July, August, you go with a tile probe and you can find that top... In that top four inches, you got a couple inches of crust somewhere.

Jon Stevens:

So I wanted to get below that and kind of shatter that up. And, and the cool thing is I did not realize that it would take the whole season for that strip-till slot to really heal. So the whole season that slot stayed very mellow, water and air could get in there. If you got a heavy rain, it got away from that seedling really quick. If it turned a little dry, it actually kind of wicked moisture from in between the strips. Moisture's going to move where it's dry. And then some... The fertility came along... But so in 15 we built the 1.0 version, and we had a cart on there and we just cut [inaudible 00:25:20] in half and sulfur in half right day one, no questions asked, we're just doing this. University of Minnesota, had some trial is already. And so we just kind of looked at their trials and then, basic math, we're just looking at basic math of broadcasting and the co-ops used to have charts, or if you had the dry on the plant or versus broadcasting, they used to have different rates for that.

Jon Stevens:

And so we were just like, okay, clearly people understand banding versus broadcasting. It's just basic math of pounds per nutrients in the root zone. And so we just cut it in half the sulfur responded extremely well. I was prepared to come back with another dose of sulfur, like we normally would do in conventional till. Because we didn't have to we're like, wow, that really worked. So 2015 was probably one of the better years we ever had in history. And you could see, we had some conventional till we had a lot of no-till and we had a little bit of strip-till, and you could see the strip-till compared to the other two, oh my gosh, why did you two even show up. At that strip-till he had a gun. Yeah. It wasn't even a contest. It was like a foot race at NASCAR. It just... Everybody else was just on foot, and it was magnificent. I mean, even in late June, it was already several vegetative growth is ahead. It left that ground running and, and it never looked back.

Julia Gerlach:

Did you get all of those planted basically at the same time and everything? Everything else was the same.

Jon Stevens:

Yeah. Yep. Yep. For the most part everything's within several days, we don't have because of our location... Once the frost was out and, and most years you're not even waiting for the frost to be completely out of the soil, you got to get going. And so we have a really short timeframe up front.

Julia Gerlach:

We didn't talk about this before. I don't think, but we should probably give your location a little bit of context because we said Minnesota, but you're actually north of Minneapolis. You between Minneapolis and Duluth. Approximately.

Jon Stevens:

Yep. Yep. We're 70 ish, right around 70 miles north of the Twin Cities. On Google earth if you look at the maps, we're 11 miles south of where row crops pretty much end. To the east we're the last fields to the east and then it runs into the old San Croix watershed and you got to go 20 miles, cross... It's 12 miles to the San Croix river. And then you got to get into Wisconsin before you get back into some, some farmland. Because you get into that old river basin and ground. And so you everything's in fairly close, but I mean, you can see it. It's like, oh my gosh. And all summer long that trip till ground, it took all the variability out of the field. And I did not expect that I wasn't going into it thinking that or anything.

Jon Stevens:

That was just a nice surprise. Wow, look at the no-till, conventional till, that white spot, or dry spot, or that hillside, or whatever, is still up and down like normal, like my whole life. Yeah, that's going to be a yellow spot if it's wet this year and that's going to be a brown spot if its dry this year. And so, one of the greatest ones was on field number three was there's a sand knob. And so our normal profile is nine inches of Sandy loom on top of many, many feet of yellow clay. And then there's a spot like God was going to put a fence post there. Like they augered this 90 foot diameter auger just punched the hole through the press and it's just sand turned the garden hose on and never make a puddle kind of sand. So that spot with conventional till and no-till that spot usually ran 30, 40% of the field average. So on soybeans a lot of years, it was zero to 15 or 20 at a... Unless it was a really wet year. And same with corn, it was a 50, 60 bushel spot in corn.

Jon Stevens:

And we stripped to through that and the rest of the field was like 150, 160. And that spot was 120 or something like that. I mean, it was right there. In fact that spot did better. The first year we strip tilled than in 2013 when it was still conventional corn, the rest of the field. That poor spot did better than the normal in the field. And we're just like, holy crap. We are onto something here. Yet not everybody's field is going to respond like ours. I talk to farmers that are doing strip-till and the beautiful soils down in Illinois and Indiana. And they don't even run fertilizer on their strip-tills because they're like the soil is so rich, we just throw a little bit of this or that out there later in the season, we've got a crop. And it's just like, oh my gosh, that's how the other half goes.

Jon Stevens:

But it... So it pretty cool to learn that. So not everybody's soil is going to be like that, but for us, it's just like, forever in my opinion. And so 2016 comes around we're like, we're strip-tilling everything. So we did, we, we stripped till everything and that pretty much destroyed the version 1.0. And so then I found an old Hiniker Econo-till where it had the chisel plow shanks. And so that was a heavy beast of a row crop cultivator. So all I did was flip the depth wheels upside down, took the burming discs off the DMI disc gripper, welded up some brackets to hold them in the back and welded a tube to put a row cleaner in it. And boom, we had a strip-till 500 bucks. 500 bucks we had a six strip-till. And we knew that sucker was not getting beat up by rock.

Jon Stevens:

You could feel it in the tractor when nothing hit a rock, you're pulling. It's just wow. And so with the old timers and the landlords, you tread lightly, because you don't want to tell them that you're doing some fringe whack thing. If you want to win... Because I already kind of learned that, because when you go to the other neighbors, yeah, I'm going to strip-till this year. They're like, "Oh yeah, we're so sorry to hear that. You know, we heard of a guy that tried it one time and it didn't work." So with, with the new landlords at the time, I kind of treaded lightly and they're like, "Well, what's that rig you're pulling around?" I said, "Oh, that's the chisel plow that happens to have my dry fertilizer program from planter is in the cart. And it's the same chisel plow shank that you'd normally have on a chisel plow. But instead of just blowing the dirt out and leaving this open trench like you would for tillage, I just spun the discs around and pull the dirt in, so I have something to plant on." I said, "so that's my I fertilizer program like you guys used to do, so I don't have to stop the planter." So the planter can just plant on them. Nice strips that are, are chisel plowed, fertilized and finished all in one path. And I can run a lot less fertilizer through there.

Michaela Paukner:

A conversation with David Hula, the Charles City, Virginia farmer known for shattering corn yield records was our fourth, most played podcast of 2021. In this segment of part one of the series, Breaking Through Yield Barriers With Strip-till, Hula explains what strip-till had has done for his corn yields.

David Hula:

Cause previously at Corn Planter, we don't have trash suites, but we'd have a no-till culture. We run the hydraulic down pressure from precision plant, and we have the meters and then we had done curve time closing wheels. We've been running those since 95. When first started raising cotton, a John Bradley from Mile Experimental Station introduced us to that. Then here recently we've changed a lot of this stuff, but we had a very good emergence. Then when I look at where we had a strip-till we had a better emergence, I'm like, now that's one way, which we're influencing you. And then the next way is, how else could do we do it? Was with the fertility side. This year, we've done a lot of strips. We were kind of incorporating some and doing tissue samples. I did a lot more this year to where we have some strips where we just broadcast all the fertilizer on top with the soil warrior just lifted it up, blew the fertilizer out.

David Hula:

So we knew we'd have the same rate. Then we did a strip with 40% less. Then we the strip with 100% percent of the same amount fertilizer. Then we hit up strip-till rig with zero fertilizer. And then we planted some without any fertilizer and no strips. And I want to say, there's probably one more test. It's escaping me now compared the emergence, we got good simulation difference in emergence. Then we were diligent in that we were waiting until conditions were right. We like to say, we want so many GDUs in a five day forecast before we start planting. This year, we started out pretty decent. And then we kind of got a cool spell and we stopped the planters. How many of y'all are going to stop a planter? Once you get started, you're just want to keep going. But then we stop the planter. Cause we were waiting for conditions that right, because we know the value of that uniform emergence.

David Hula:

Then we got started again, and then we stopped again, and then we finally finished up, but we noticed wherever we ran the strip tail rig, we had more uniform emergence than where we had air... No-till. Even when we were waiting for conditions to be right, a much better seed bed preparation, with no residue in the seed trench. We feel really good about that, but we were also doing a good job in our no-till environment, but it just enhanced. But what I was getting at, in reference to the plots, we've been pulling a lot of tissue samples. And the first several tissue samples, I don't start tissue sample until we're at that V two to three stage. And then I know the V two stage, we're not getting any, not much good data, but I'm still kind of pulling some samples. Then as it goes along, we were noticing irregardless of what tillage system we had, we had similar tissue levels, whether it was no-till, whether it was strip-till, whether it was strip-till with fertilizer, and without fertilizer.

David Hula:

Why do you think that? We were still putting on their same amount of [inaudible 00:36:05]. We didn't deviate from that, because that is the most important component that we can do when the planter passes being made outside of getting uniform depth and space is getting that fertilizer out. So we didn't and see a difference. Then after about three sets of samples, we started seeing a little bit of a difference in fertility, where we had the strip-till being higher with the fertilizer than without. Then we started comparing, alright where we did a 40% reduction. So we were only applying 60% of the fertilizer compared to a hundred percent of the fertilizer. Hey, we weren't seeing a big change there. So that's kind of gotten me excited. Now we're continuing to pull them, we're still collecting data. We haven't finished this season up. So hopefully if I get invited to be part of the strip-till conference in 2021, then we'll have some data we can share cause we'll have some yield data.

David Hula:

And fortunately that particular farm is not burnt up. We had a longer season corn hybrid planted there, has been able to capture some of these later rains. We're not going to see any 250 bushels corn, but I hope we'll be in that 150 on up range. So we'll get some good yield data. It won't be like irrigated and very consistent, but back to how can we make more dollars raising our corns. Trip tilling is helping us because I see where we can reduce our fertilizer. So that's helping reduce our fertilizer bill, but then it's also allowing us to kind of fulfill that environmentally quality, being a good steward because as a grower, we're the first environmentalists out there. We've got to protect the soil that we have. So that strip-till rig is allowing to do that.

Michaela Paukner:

And finally rounding out our top five list is Jason Federer's organic modified strip-till system. Let's listen in as Federer talks about his transition to organic and his cropping rotation.

Jason Federer:

We started out with one 90 acre field. Its actually... A friend of ours knew that I wanted to farm organically. And this is when my dad was still alive and, had this field and came to us with it, and it was ready to go. I mean, he'd already transitioned it. It was ready for its first organic crop. And it's kind of a no-brainer. And it's about 12 or 15 miles away. And so it worked out well for my dad, because if it was a failure, he didn't have to drive by it every day and look at it.

Jason Federer:

And it was kind of neat because he was a little reluctant at his age to want to get back into organic because he'd been there and he knew what kind of work it took. And after we started doing that, he started transitioning another 80 acres right by the home, the house here. Oh, I don't if it reignited that in him or not, but I guess it was... We're kind of all on board then, that year's crop was a complete failure. We had 30 inches of rain in June. I mean, it was wet for a month, which you can imagine on organic, was it just weeds you, we had to destroy it, but you can't change that and then it was a good experience to see what... There were some things for totally wise that weren't going to work, that we saw.

Jason Federer:

So, we went from 90 acres, to 170, added another 80 the year after that, and I think the next year he passed away and I had my hands full, so I didn't transition anymore that fall. But the year after that I did another 160. And I believe the year after that threw another 1000 in, give or take maybe not a full 1000, maybe 700. And that's where I'm at now. I think like 11, 1200 that's fully... Or certified. And then whatever year, it would've been 19 maybe? We had non GMO everything before, had them on conventional and non GMO beans were just not fun. To... It's... I got to the point... I'm doing almost as much work on these as organic. Why not just do... Why am I fighting it? I'd already had enough years and that I was comfortable with organic, but I just decided I'm throwing the rest of it in, I don't want to have a split operation anymore and multiple managements and I'm not saying it was without any bumps in the road, but overall I... Yeah, I'm happy with it.

Julia Gerlach:

And so your entire operation now is certified organic?

Jason Federer:

It's all finishing up transition there's close to a third of it is certified and the rest of it will be come harvest of 22.

Julia Gerlach:

So what sort of cropping rotation are you looking at right now?

Jason Federer:

Which year in which field? That's probably one of the most commonly as questions and I don't have one rotation and it's changing all the time. I guess there's a lot of factors. A lot of it is just what actually works with the agronomics, the workflow, and then the economics too. It's awful hard to try to grow something you can't sell, or be profitable at. We went from strictly corn beans and maybe a little wheat years ago, other than cover crops. We've been cover crops for quite a long time now. This last year, I think I had about 10 different crops in this year. If I figure them up, probably close to that. Maybe a couple less. So for corn, most of my corn this year was actually popcorn. And then, we've got cereals, oats, wheat, rye, barley. We, this is our first year for barley. So we'll see how that turns out.

Jason Federer:

We did sunflowers this year for the first time that's, one I think is a good fit for us. We did grape seed and canola. The grape seed is not organic. The canola is organic. I think it's definitely got a place. It's not a really profitable crop for us. If you want to push the fertility at it, you can get it to perform, but I don't need another crop where I got to push fertility. There's... If I'm going to do that, I'll go back. I'll take a year off and go back to corn. We did grain hemp last year and the year before. And no, never again. I hate saying never, but the first year I did it, I had some conventional, oh. And the conventional at the time, it competed with, with $3, $3.50 corn, but I never got paid for it.

Jason Federer:

It's still in a bin out here because the... When COVID hit it really screwed with the supply chain, long story short, but even that aside, it's a tough one to manage organically. And it's another one that takes some extra fertility it's about like corn. And it's like, okay, why do I want to grow a crop that I know is going to make less than corn with more work and more risk? Part of the other allure of it was okay, well, what's it going to bring to the rotation? What's it going to do for the soil? And for the life of me I don't know yet. We didn't have an issue with [inaudible 00:43:35] years, but one thing that was really interesting was the first year I had it, it was a conventional field and I planted corn around it. I had 40 acres out of an 80 acre field, roughly that was hemp. And the next year it was beans. And I could... You could tell to the line where the hemp was, it was just full of mayor's tail, but where the corn was not much at all. And it was... The hemp was clean. It looked really good the year we had it there, but then the following year, it's just full of mayor's tail and beans. And like I said, I don't know what it adds to agronomics, but that's not the direction I want to go.

Michaela Paukner:

That's it, for our top five most played podcast of 2021. You can listen to all five of the full episodes at striptillfarmer.com/podcasts or wherever you get your podcast. Were there any conversations that stuck with you in 2021 that weren't on this list? Share them with me by emailing MFaulkner@lessitermedia.com or calling (262) 777-2441. Once again, many thanks to Terrasym by NewLeaf Symbiotics for helping to make this strip-till podcast series possible. From all of us here at Strip-till Farmer, I'm Michaela Paulkner. Thanks for listening.

 

Music: Lobo Loco - Echoes Boogie Dancehall