Strip-tilling has increased dryland corn yields 30 to 45 bushels per acre for Scott Darling of Pender, Neb., since he started strip-tilling about 4 years ago.
This year marks the second season that he's using a one-pass system to strip-till, fertilize and plant twin-row corn in northeastern Nebraska.
"In 2009 and 2010, I harvested 210- to 225-bushel-per-acre corn," Darling says. "Before that, I was harvesting corn that averaged around 180 bushels per acre. Strip-till and twin-row corn helps me optimize the variable soils here."
Darling, along with his wife Katie and their son, Jon, farm 600 acres in Thurston County. Scott has been in the fertilizer business for 40 years and recently turned those duties over to Jon at Pender Grain.
CORN YIELDS BUMP UP. (l-r) Scott, Katie and Jon Darling strip-till 600 acres of dryland corn in northeastern Nebraska. They've seen corn yields jump by 30 to 45 bushels per acre since moving to strip-till 4 years ago. (Submitted photo)
"Last spring, I strip-tilled with an eight-row Blu-Jet LandTracker 9400 caddy saddled with a 750-gallon starter tank, and I pulled a Great Plains eight-row, twin-row planter linked behind it," Scott says. "An anhydrous ammonia tank followed this. Forget backing into corners. We go for length, not width."
Scott uses a 280-horsepower Challenger MT665C tractor to pull the one-pass rig. It runs at 72%, or 200 horsepower. He strip-tills and injects 180 to 200 pounds of anhydrous ammonia per acre. The anhydrous is injected deep, at 10 to 12 inches, then he applies 10 gallons of pop-up starter fertilizer (8-20-5-5-0.5) 3 to 4 inches deep with the same knife.
He then plants twin-row corn on each side of the tilled strip, with a target population of 30,000 seeds per acre.
"Twin-row strip-till in one pass works well with my GPS," Scott says. "We'll probably go to RTK next year. I only use the row markers for the first round in the field and on the end rows. I absolutely love the GPS and auto-steer."
During the past 2 years, yield maps Scott made while combining revealed variability within the fields. This year, he's taking soil samples on 4-acre grids.
"Jon variable-rate applies dry phosphorus, potassium, zinc and sulfur where our yield maps say those nutrients are needed," Scott says.
Scott started out twin-rowing corn by using a 20-foot-wide John Deere 750 no-till drill with 7½-inch row spacing. To twin-row corn, he closed up two rows, kept the next two rows open to plant, and repeated this pattern for the width of the drill.
The result was 16 rows, with 7½-inch row spacing on 30-inch centers. This row configuration can easily be harvested with a conventional eight-row corn head with 30-inch spacing, he says.
Two Case IH air-planter seed units were mounted behind the drill on the frame. Hoses delivered the seed to each row unit and were driven by a Rawson hydraulic rate controller.
Scott decided to try strip-till several years ago after reading about the practice and its benefits.
"I'm always looking for something new to try," he says. "I'm an inventor as a hobby. That's my passion. I just like efficiency."
Getting In The Zone
Scott believes conventional no-till ties up nutrients in the previous crop residue. He wants to get fertilizer down in the root zone, where the current plant is feeding.
"Strip-tilling and placing fertilizer in a zone has definitely helped," he says. "I'm getting corn with a lot better plant health and with a bigger, more vigorous root system by increasing the soil-to-root ratio and promoting good soil tilth.
"With rising land, rent, fuel and fertilizer prices, efficiency and net-return per acre drives this method of farming. It is also environmentally sound. I've enjoyed the challenge."