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“What I do is a systems approach. It is not one-size-fits-all. It is if you do not do step number one correctly, it's going to affect step number two. Any of the successful corn growers will tell you that what they do is plan.”

— Chris Perkins, Otwell, Ind. Strip-Tiller and Owner of Banded Ag

Achieving consistently high yields doesn’t happen accidentally. That’s why Indiana strip-tiller and consultant Chris Perkins takes a systems approach to strip-till.

Through methodical research and testing, Perkins developed a systems management banded fertility program that has expanded to more than 10,000 acres in Indiana and beyond. He’s joining Strip-Till Farmer as a speaker at the 2022 National Strip-Tillage Conference in Iowa July 28-29 to talk about the keys to his system — hybrid selection, a balanced nutrition plan below the root system, fungicides and the mathematics of yield.

In this episode of the Strip-Till Farmer podcast, brought to you by SOURCE by Sound Agriculture, Perkins introduces what to look for in a corn hybrid, shares how to develop a plan for success with corn, explains why he doesn’t believe in fall fertilizer and much more.

P.S. If you want to hear more from Chris, be sure to register for the 2022 National Strip-Tillage Conference. You’re in for 2 days of learning and unlimited networking with cutting-edge strip-tillers like Chris!

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The Strip-Till Farmer podcast is brought to you by SOURCE®️ by Sound Agriculture.

Wake up your soil and unlock more per acre with SOURCE®️ by Sound Agriculture. SOURCE is a biochemistry that activates microbes in the soil to provide more nitrogen and phosphorus to corn and soybean crops. It’s simple to use with a low use rate, tank mix compatibility, and flexible application window. Use the Performance Optimizer tool to determine where SOURCE will work best to increase yield or reduce nitrogen - either way you win. Visit Sound.Ag to learn more.

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Full Transcript

Michaela Paukner:

Welcome to this episode of the Strip-Till Farmer podcast series. I'm Michaela Paukner, associate editor of Strip-Till Farmer.

Michaela Paukner:

Thanks to SOURCE by Sound Agriculture for supporting this strip-till podcast series. Wake up your soil and unlock more per acre with SOURCE by Sound Agriculture. SOURCE is a biochemistry that activates microbes in the soil to provide more nitrogen and phosphorous to corn and soybean crops. It's simple to use with a low use rate, tank mix compatibility and flexible application window. Use the performance optimizer tool to determine where SOURCE will work best to increase, yield or reduce nitrogen. Either way you win. Visit sound.ag, to learn more. That's S-O-N-D, dot A-G.

Michaela Paukner:

Achieving consistently high yields doesn't happen accidentally. That's why Indiana strip-tiller and consultant Chris Perkins takes a systems approach to strip-till. Through methodical research and testing, Perkins developed a systems management banded fertility program that is expanded to more than 10,000 acres in Indiana and beyond. He's joining Strip-till Farmer as a speaker at the 2022 National Strip-tillage Conference in Iowa in July to talk about the keys to his system. Hybrid selection, a balanced nutrition plan below the root system, fungicides and the mathematics of yield. In today's episode, Perkins introduces what to look for in a corn hybrid, shares how to develop a plan for success with corn, explains why he doesn't believe in fall fertilizer and much more.

Chris Perkins:

My name's Chris Perkins, I'm in southwest Indiana and I'm the owner of Banded Ag, LLC. We were created in 2019 through a partnership with a capital investor owner, and we also partnered up with Land Luvr's strip-till bars, with the owner of that, a guy by the name of Lyn Rosenboom. And I created Banded Ag from years past of working in ag retail, and doing a lot of research work around banding technology. And I wanted to build a platform that tried to make a difference in the ag sector, where we concentrated solely on banding nutrients.

Michaela Paukner:

Okay. How many acres do your clients have, and where are they located?

Chris Perkins:

So from our custom side of the business that we do all the custom strip-till for, obviously they're in the southwest Indiana and Northern Kentucky corridor. We stretch from about, in the southwest Indiana part, we're from basically north of Evansville, a few minutes, all the way to Jasper, Indiana to Washington, Indiana. And we'll cover, from a custom side, I think this year we're set to go over roughly 10,000 acres, maybe a little more than that, doing the custom strip-till application. And then in turn, work with the growers on writing programs for the system that they're now in. A lot of the mistakes that I see made when people go into strip-till or banding is, they change that part of their program, but then everything else stays the same. As it was. Usually, more times than not, there are other tweaks that need to be made as well.

Chris Perkins:

Just me showing up with a bar and sticking it in the ground, doesn't always lead to the highest of successes that people are hoping to have when they hear of some of the numbers from other people that have come through our systems approach. I'm not saying anything bad about strip-till, by no means, honestly. Everybody knows what I think of it, I put my livelihood around it. But just because we change one thing in our equation, if we don't see the factors that can be influenced by that decision and change, and how that can have ramifications for other management processes that we were doing, it can sometimes hinder what we changed.

Michaela Paukner:

So what are the components of your banding program that you're working with growers to implement? So when you actually go through and strip-till, everything's working the way it's supposed to, when they're getting those successes that they're expecting?

Chris Perkins:

Well, a lot of it has to do, first step, with seed selection. I don't sell seed. I used to be in that business, years back, I have really no ambition to want to go back to that. I feel bad for guys that are seed salesmen sometime, because it seems like it's kind of always something that they're having to fight, or try to show or help other people. And seed usually always gets the blame, right? That's usually the first phone call when something's not right.

Chris Perkins:

What I do is screen hybrids from different companies that are more popular in our area, so I'm not discriminating against anybody or anything, but you just see more of a couple, two or three brands in our geographies. And then what you see is other regional brands. So we screen those, and start to get an understanding of how are these hybrids reacting and interacting with that band of nutrients directly below them? Not all hybrids will react the same, just because you stick a strip-till band down below them. Conversely, though, some hybrids will react huge to that nutrition being placed directly below. So first off we got to weed those out, and try to set the guys up towards a success path, through that selection first.

Michaela Paukner:

Okay. And when you say some hybrids will react huge, and you don't want those, what are the things that they're doing that you don't want them to do?

Chris Perkins:

A lot of the stuff that has been marketed to growers, work horse, race horse hybrids. And really, if you think about the very premise of that conjecture, who goes to the horse races to bet on the plow horse, right?

Michaela Paukner:

Yeah.

Chris Perkins:

So if you think about it's like, "Well, why would I ever want to work horse on my farm?" And then you get into, "Well, you've got this hill, and it gets droughty," and et cetera, et cetera. And then we talk about roots and stuff like that, some work that I've done over the past few years with Dr. Below and Scott Foxhoven, just simply renamed them. Large rooted, small rooted hybrids. And that has been able to give us a little bit more of a glimpse into attaining higher yields in these systems. Usually, more times than not, it's with smaller rooted hybrids. Yield is not only a mathematical equation, but it is a function of energy. Once energy is used, it is never able to be replaced, just like in our everyday human lives.

Chris Perkins:

So a lot of times, hybrids spend a lot of energy, a lot of time and energy into creating these huge, robust root structures. And a lot of times those hybrids don't do very good in a strip-till band. Now I'm speaking from our area here in the Midwest, and southwest Indiana. When you start going west, I'm not going to speak on that because I'll be honest, I'm just too ignorant. I've not been exposed to their elements, their climates, when they're planting 15 to 16,000 plants per acre, what they call kind of the low pop mafia, because they are so dry out there. I'm sure those hybrids probably have a little more shine to them, if you will, than some of the hybrids that we use around here. So I don't want to get too technical and say, "Well, this is a blanket approach from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean." I'm just kind of going off what we're seeing here.

Chris Perkins:

Coincidentally, though, those smaller rooted hybrids, when we go to a banded application of nutrients, we're able to plant them thicker, as well. And the reason for that is, as you plant thicker, the roots get smaller on any hybrid, right? And because they've gotten smaller, we're still able to maintain a constant food source directly below them. If you think about it, it's kind of like an IV drip going into a young child versus an IV drip going into an adult human being. As long as the monitor is set at the same pace, it's the same drip, right? That's in essence what we're doing.

Michaela Paukner:

Okay. In terms of your screening process, what does that look like?

Chris Perkins:

It's really pretty simple. We just set up what we call our strip-till by hybrid trials, and we plant them on the band. And then we plant them right beside each other, directly off the band. And we'll put down a broadcast mix, a guy might put on a bunch of dry up front and work it in, or he does anhydrous or he does liquid, and then he wants to come back and side dress. I don't care. I just care about removing the location of those nutrients. So in essence, what I'm creating is basically a root interception trial where one side, where the band is, is obviously the roots grow directly through it. So root interception is much greater than the other processes. And when we get into the grower standards of broadcasting or whatever, they become more reliant upon processes such as diffusion, mass flow, things of that essence.

Chris Perkins:

So what we start to see though, and I always thought this was really interesting. If you spread these out geographically, to also maybe get introduced to different weather elements throughout a growing season, maybe one area gets a little more rain than the other, one area gets a little bit warmer, maybe by a couple degrees, it usually doesn't differentiate that much. While their yields will be different, the sum between the two systems is always very ironically close together. It's been one of the most interesting things that I've noticed over the past few years of doing this.

Chris Perkins:

If you take Hybrid A and you plant it on a strip-till band and you put it in this system, and then you take Hybrid A and you put it into whatever the other system is that the grower wishes for it to be. And let's say, there's 50 bushels between the difference of those two. You could move that same trial, and go 20 miles down the road. And while their top yields may be different, the sums are very close, which tells me there has to be a correlation back then to that concentration of those nutrients being there. And just the fact of energy creation, sugars throughout the plant, nutrient content of the kernels. And there's a whole host of things that's taking place there, but always interesting to kind of see that because you can see that, "Okay, I am starting to make some pretty good sound decisions off of the data that I'm seeing." That, "Hey, this hybrid here, it's not recommended that I plant it. When I put it into this system, it completely changes it, so I can get away with using it more," or what have you.

Chris Perkins:

But we go after the hybrids that tend to have the higher yield, in those trials. I don't get so concerned about what hybrid went number one, or what hybrid went number two. I don't worry about that as much, because it's like a first page of a thousand page book. It doesn't tell you that much. I don't get too worried about that. But what I do really concentrate on is say, "Okay, Hybrid A here, man, there was like a 50 bushel difference in this thing in like four different locations. Versus Hybrid B here, there was only like 10." Or sometimes you see a hybrid where it'll be like, "Hey, this one location, man, there was a lot," and you go to another location, and there wasn't anything. And that's the one you kind of start to have to go back to the drawing board and play with a little bit, and just be honest and tell people, "I'm still kind of evaluating it, and learning more."

Chris Perkins:

So sometimes the seed companies, they like to work with me with what we're doing, and other times they really don't like to work with me.

Michaela Paukner:

Yeah.

Chris Perkins:

It's not a knock against anybody. There has been a certain couple of companies that we have seen more success with, being in banded applications, than other companies. Obviously I'm not going to name names on here, but there is some truth into that. That's kind of where we're at right now, from looking at this. I think the whole future of what we're needing to do in ag, or trying to do in ag, I think there's got to be a myriad of changes down the road. This one here won't even be a drop in the bucket from some of the stuff that will be coming down the road, from narrow row spacing, the shorter corn, the technology in the tractors. Who knows what government regulations will be coming down the pipeline one day. We're just trying to kind of get ahead and in front of all that stuff.

Michaela Paukner:

So when you're doing these strip-till hybrid trials for the grower, is there a particular like percentage of their land that you're doing the trial? Or, how do you decide what gets put in one thing, versus another thing?

Chris Perkins:

Well, so like let's take Company A, and let's say that the grower is planting Company A. And we've screened in the past three hybrids in Company A, so we'll take a given area of a field and we'll say, "Okay, let's put those three hybrids back in. Let's check us, from what we've seen in the past." And a lot of times it just remains consistent as can be, "But let's introduce three new hybrids from Company A," and then, "Oh, by the way, I think there might be something with Company B, here." And we put a few more. It's really randomized, but the one thing I do try to accomplish is, if I put out five or six of these trials throughout a 10, 20 mile radius, that they're all the same. Everything is the same.

Chris Perkins:

The last thing I want, if Company One has Hybrids A, B, C, and D, and then I move it to another location, Company One, and I don't put in A, B, C or D, but I put in E, F, G and H. That doesn't do a lot for me. Good, consistent data is built by backup of said data, and that's a lot of what I take into consideration from that standpoint.

Chris Perkins:

And then also I speak to the seed companies, the ones that want to talk and that are interested in some of the stuff we're doing. I think that there are seed, or dealers if you will, in our area that seem pretty interested in what we're doing. Their questions are very sincere in trying to learn, and talking to their growers about it, kind of want to see, is this all BS or is there really something to this?

Chris Perkins:

The other problem though with that is, you've got such other seed dealerships in our area that are other retailers and competitors of us. And they don't really want me out and about, because it could create other problems for them. I get it, they have a family, and I respect that. We don't just go calling on people to drum up business, but if people contact us interested in what we're doing and how we're doing it, we'll be very open with them, and transparent. I farm, and that's how I would want to be treated in my operation. I saw a lot of these things when I was younger, and would question stuff, and you'd ask one question and it would lead to another question, and lead to another question. And pretty soon the answers you were getting was just answers that you could've just got off Google, or reading the brochure that they read before they came out and talked to you. And they're not all like that, and I'm not insinuating that at all.

Chris Perkins:

But I'm just saying, that's what we went through. Nothing changed in our operation, except the degree of hope that we had each year. But basically, we were dependent completely on hope for our program, with weather. We weren't making the type of swinging changes that would sustain differentiation and management. You know, we'd, we'd done anhydrous in the past, and we had done UA in the past, and dry and worked it in, and side dressing. And we'd done all these things and it's just like, no matter what we'd do, it just keeps coming back the same way. If it was good in a good year, or if it was bad, in a bad year.

Chris Perkins:

Well, I want to be great in a good year and I want to be good in an average year. And I don't want to be bad at all. Except for you get like a 2012 thrown in there at you, right? Not a lot you can do about that. Mother Nature still controls all of it. And I'm not naive enough, to not think that, but if there's some of our management changes that we could be making... Why does one guy get more than the other? What is he doing? And that's literally what we're trying to set out, and find and do. But now that we kind of know what he may have been doing, or something that was leading to what he was doing, now we can kind of replicate that. And change it, and get other growers to talk and work with one another, to help each other out.

Chris Perkins:

I mean, the people that we work with, to tell you that they have become a team with each other would be an understatement. It is amazing to see the camaraderie between these different growers that, some knew each other, some really didn't know each other. But what they've become now is one functioning unit, and it's really incredible to watch and see.

Michaela Paukner:

Yeah, that is. And I think that's a good segue into talking about the 2022 National Strip-tillage Conference, because that's something that we really try to facilitate, is people coming together and sharing what's working and what's not working to essentially help everybody out. And I know you're going to be joining us for that as a general session speaker, so could you just give us an overview of what you'll be talking about during that general session, and what people will be able to take away from it?

Chris Perkins:

One of the things that we really want to be speaking about is understanding that what I do is a systems approach. It is not a one size fits all, it is not a, "If you do this, you get that. And if you do that, you get this," type. It is how, if you do not do step number one correctly, how it's going to affect step number 10. Any of the successful corn growers will tell you that. What they do is a plan. It is planned out. Now granted, there are curve balls in that plan that they have to be able to adopt and move with, it's not just completely a piece of iron and rigid in structure, but they have a plan of what they're going to do. And that's one of the things that I'll be talking about is, "Okay, how do we develop that plan?"

Chris Perkins:

And then, one of the other things we'll be talking about from that first step and moving into the second step is, understanding that yield is literally a math equation. Marketing, advertising wants to make this thing a whole lot more than what it is, and sometimes we just need to break it down into more of a simplistic approach. And I do it from a mathematics standpoint. Yield is plants per acre, times kernels per plant, times weight per kernel. So which of those factors can I control? Which one of those factors can I have influence on? And which one of those factors are completely out of my control, no matter what I do?

Chris Perkins:

And then we tie that into understanding client health and fungicides, just how vitally important they are, in a high yield system in this industry. They're crucial in what we do, completely crucial. And those will be a few of the things that we'll be talking about.

Michaela Paukner:

Before Chris elaborates on creating a plan for a systems approach, I'd like to thank our sponsor, SOURCE by Sound Agriculture, for supporting the Strip-Till Farmer podcast series. Wake up your soil and unlock more per acre with SOURCE by Sound Agriculture. SOURCE is a biochemistry that activates microbes in the soil to provide more nitrogen and phosphorous to corn and soybean crops. It's simple to use with a low use rate, tank mix compatibility, and a flexible application window. Use the performance optimizer tool to determine where SOURCE will work best to increase yield or reduce nitrogen. Either way you win. Visit sound.ag to learn more. That's S-O-N-D dot A-G. Now let's get back to the conversation.

Michaela Paukner:

Starting with developing the plan. What are some basic things that people should be thinking about?

Chris Perkins:

If you're thinking about doing something for your 2023 crop, you really need to start thinking about where you want to do it, how you want to do it, very close to whenever you're going to be taking off the 2022 crop. Take a corn on corn situation. We need to get a chance to start getting residue breakdown, maybe it's a 28 or a 32 application with a sprayer in the fall time, to break that stuff down. I'm not too big into biologicals, I've used them in the past, I've played with them. Seen some luck with them, seen some not have much luck to them. I'm more of a proponent and feeding the biology that they already have. So that'd be kind of step number one.

Chris Perkins:

Step number two, understand that there's going to be some changes that I'm going to suggest that, it's probably going to be a little bit off the cuff and it's going to be a little different than kind of what you thought in the past. One of those first ones would be, I absolutely do not believe in fall fertilizer. And man, do I get the arrows thrown at me when I walk through the gate saying that, the 10 plus thousand acres we'll go over this spring, those are all spring applied acres. We do not band in the fall time. Period. A fresh fertilizer is worth its weight in gold, compared to fertilizer that's been out there for months on end.

Michaela Paukner:

Okay.

Chris Perkins:

So that's one of the things you're used to doing it in the fall time, that's probably going to be a little bit of a different change, right? So those are your first steps.

Chris Perkins:

The second steps may be, from the technology standpoint, where are you at, from your RTK systems to your auto track systems, to your implement guidance systems? Whether it's passive or progressive, it is what it is, from that standpoint. Those would be some of the differences you'll be looking at.

Chris Perkins:

And then, sitting down and just kind of making a plan of what we're going to do here. A lot of times, I don't get too down in the weeds or too worried about what a guy's soil test is, because we're not feeding the soil. So what do I care, what the soil really says? I look at pH and I look at base saturations. After that, that thing is pretty much worthless. Not to mention that we've been using it since what, the '50s or '60s? Going off the same RX, and God knows nothing's changed since then. We build a plan to feed a plant, much like a dietician would build a plan for a patient to build muscle mass, or to lose weight, or what have you. And that's, in the ultimate, what we do.

Chris Perkins:

And to be honest with you, it's really not even anything that difficult, from that standpoint. There's been a lot of people that have made some fuss or a lot of fuss, or not very much fuss, about this base program that we run. And it's been pretty much the same recipe since 2016. Might tweak it a few pounds here and there, from year to year, but from the nucleus of it, it's always really been the exact same. And working with growers in Missouri and Iowa and Illinois that I work with, from the bars that we have sold through Land Luvr, and our strip-till bars and putting them into these programs. It just blows their mind when I'm like, "I don't need to see what your soil tests are." If they point to me on a map where they're from, I pretty much know, "Hey, you have a high magnesium problem," or you have some other problem.

Chris Perkins:

It's funny how it works like that, within the Midwest, in the United States, through them, we talk about it. It's not like I just completely dismiss it, but it's just not something I'm really worried about. So we kind of go from there, from that standpoint. So there's that change.

Chris Perkins:

And then the next step would be going into the springtime. So we've selected seeds, selected where we're going to put stuff, populations, built the plan, et cetera, et cetera, and then get to the crux of actually strip-tilling. And I always tell people that they get a strip-till bar from us, or they get a strip-till bar from somebody else and they call me with questions or what have you. I always tell them, "Always enjoy your first year." Because if you've never done it before your first year, and all your neighbors think you went nuts? Hey, the only thing that you have to do, is disappoint them. They think it's not going to work. Your only goal for that year is to just disappoint them. I tell people all the time, my first year, when we built our first eight row bar and it started testing these hybrids by strip-till trial, I had no clue what I was doing. I mean, I was just sticking crap and up box and trying to figure this out, and it was just tons and tons of trial and error.

Chris Perkins:

And I always tell everybody like, "Man, that was the greatest time ever, because I had no clue what to worry about."

Michaela Paukner:

Right.

Chris Perkins:

And I always tell them, "Enjoy the first year, because you will be able to write a book after that first year, of what not to do the second year." And people always laugh when I tell them, and they're like, "Oh, you're nuts." And I'll tell you what, it would blow your mind if you knew how many people has told me like, "Man, you wasn't kidding. After that first year, you really will write a book of what not to do the second year." You'll learn, via I guess a walk through, of what a new grower goes through.

Chris Perkins:

If you think about it, just from a human element standpoint, you're talking about making pretty drastic changes, and changing things that he's known for a long time, or people that he works with that is not so for the changes that he wants to make. And I've been party to a lot of these conversations where guys are nervous. "Is this going to work? Is it not going to work? Am I going to look like a fool?" Nobody wants to look dumb, and nobody wants to fail. But to be honest with you, I kind of accept failure. Not from the standpoint of we make it part of our business practice, but because if I'm not failing from time to time, I'm not pushing things enough. And to me, that's not acceptable. To just build something and get comfortable with it, and then never change it again. "We've got it all figured out."

Chris Perkins:

That I don't like, because while I have had many fields go over 300 bushel to the acre, for dry averages in our area, I've had quite a few different people, national, NCGA Strip-till national winners. There's always somebody doing a little better than what we did, in a contest. So it tells me that, "Maybe you don't have this one all figured out." So just be open to learning, and be open to trying. And during those trials and errors, you're going to fail.

Michaela Paukner:

Right.

Chris Perkins:

And that's okay. I'm perfectly fine with that. But at least I tried. I heard a very wise guy tell me a long time ago that if you do not kill a crop, you didn't push it far enough, and I think he was absolutely right. It's funny, I was watching a thing over the weekend with SpaceX and Elon Musk, and I'm a big fan of this guy. I mean, the guy's incredibly intelligent. And when they built the first rockets to go into orbit, he basically told them like, "Hey, I got enough money to do this, like the first four rockets." And they knew that the first two to three of them were just going to completely fail and explode, but they needed to learn why they exploded and failed.

Chris Perkins:

And that's the same philosophy. I kind of take into this place with our growers. What happened? Now, we don't want those failures happening, obviously, with the growers. We want those failures happening in a very small controlled environment...

Michaela Paukner:

Right.

Chris Perkins:

... that is not going to be a problem on a large scale, right? But you can't be afraid to try different things. And a lot of growers that haven't done this, or haven't seen or been around it, they're reluctant to change and there's going to be some coaching, if you will, to go along the way.

Michaela Paukner:

Sure. For somebody who's strip-tilling, who's kind of one of the people who is a little nervous about trying this and worried about failure. What's something pretty either simple or easy that they could try, that is likely to get them some success, so they're more confident to try more new things going forward?

Chris Perkins:

Go find your low hanging fruit. That would be easiest thing that I could tell you, and the quickest. Go find the field that have 100 bushel variances in them. Don't go to the field that's the best one on the farm and think, "Oh, I'm going to make it even better." Maybe, but your percentage of changing that is probably going to be pretty slim. There's a reason why it's the best field on your farm, it's because it's been the best field on your farm for the past 50 years, as time has changed, technologies change, equipment's changed. Seed has changed, practices have changed. But guess what? It's still always the best field, right? So thinking you're going change, something like that instantly? That can be a little more challenging. But go somewhere where it's not as good. Go make the lower stuff on the farm do better.

Chris Perkins:

Remember how I told you that yield is nothing more than math? Well, it's the same thing here. If I have a high average... If we have a field, I tell people this all the time, when we have a field that... Like our entire corn crop average last year was like 290, for our farm. Dry average, whole thing. And we had, I don't know, Mary Arky fields that went over 300 bushels to the acre. We had a couple of those replant situations on about 150 acres, was only the 260s, I think. But some people was like, "When we have a field average 300," let's say it averaged 310, for a dry, across the scale average, you hardly ever see it doing 400 through the field, but you also hardly ever see it doing below 280. It's just consistent. It's consistent from one end to the other, through the slough, on top of the hill, through the good, it just stays consistent.

Chris Perkins:

Now you'll see 350s, 360s, you will see that. But you have to, right, in order to make your mathematics work out. Have to have a whole lot more of the 310 and above, than what I do 310 and below, to make it 310. Depending on what those numbers are, but what I'm trying to say is, when a field makes 300, it's not part of the field doing 200, or the part doing 400. It just doesn't work that way. So what I've been able to kind of see and talk to people and help them with is that, go find that lower hanging fruit first. Make the 220 and 250, and keep the 300 a 300. Now, all of a sudden, we got a 275 field average. And that's been a lot of it, in all honesty.

Chris Perkins:

I've had a lot of people talk to me about, "Man, I'd really like to stick this strip-till bar on this irrigated ground and this ice cream cake type of dirt." Truth is, it may not change that much. I've seen it where it has, in a really wet year. And I've seen where it hasn't, in a really good year. But guess what? That's also why we called it a really good year. It doesn't really matter what you did. That's why it was a good year. So that's one of the things that I would try to convey to people, from that standpoint. Go pick up the low hanging fruit first, go get it. And once you get your feet underneath you, once you start to understand it, feel it and appreciate the system, then you go after the bigger stuff. And hopefully your success rate will be a lot better, that way.

Michaela Paukner:

Yeah. That's good advice. And then, like you said earlier, people are getting that the whole book of things not to do again, they're getting that out of the way with less damage, than if they were to do it on their best field.

Chris Perkins:

Absolutely. You know what started a lot of this was, was A, my relationship with Dr. Below. I tell people all the time, "God, I beg of you. If you want to get better, go find your Dr. Below." And maybe it is Dr. Below, but at least go find somebody, some guy that can just push you and make you think, and make you feel uncomfortable and make you feel dumb. But be able to pick you back up again, and make you better. Go find that guy, because he is vital to your operation. But more importantly, he's vital to your business. That is so crucial in that. I still have mine. People look to me, like I look to him. And I have other people through the system as well, through other companies, mathematicians, agronomists. I even work with people that are in the golf course industry, that have a background in that. And I'm always reading and trying to challenge these status quos, if you will. That would probably a really good piece of advice to give to people is, to go find your Fred.

Michaela Paukner:

Yeah. All right. Was there anything else you wanted to mention?

Chris Perkins:

Look forward to speaking with everybody, hopefully I can answer some of the questions. And I might get too far off kilter, or too far off base, or people think I have completely lost my mind. That's really not what this is about, but I'm not scared to be different and I want to challenge a lot of the old traditional ways.

Chris Perkins:

Funny fact, when this whole strip-till stuff got started back in 2008 or '09, the first year that Fred started banding. And don't get me wrong, he's not the first one to do it. My gosh, there had been people doing it for years before that, but really the first time that it was, he started looking at from a research standpoint. They're on some of the best soil in the Midwest, possibly the United States, you could argue. Or at least some of the better, if you will, in the United States. And on soil tests that are screaming, "Hey, I have everything I need." And yet, you get a response, when you put something right there. And it was just like, "What the heck? This doesn't make sense."

Chris Perkins:

And they were walking and a gentleman told him that, "It's great, Fred, but it takes too long to be able to do all the strip-tilling and banding and stuff, and it won't be done." And Fred told him, he said, "If there's enough money in it, somebody will figure it out." And I walked into Fred's life three years later, and this is what I've been working on ever since. Trying to figure this out from a commercial situation, outside of our farm. And I hear people tell me all the time, "Well, I can't do spring strip-till." "Well, why not?" "Well, we just got too many acres to get across." "Okay. All right, I get it."

Chris Perkins:

And then the conversation goes on. They're like, "Well, how many acres you got to get across this year?" "I don't know, like 12,000." "What?" Like I said, if you don't say nothing, you just kind of lead them to it. And it's like, will it be a struggle? Yeah. Especially right now with the way the weather is, and it will not warm up. It will not dry up. I mean, it's looking like it's about to be a real nightmare, although we are still only mid-April, so we still have a long way to go. And I have to keep telling myself that, but it's kind of where the situation's what we're in, right? I chose it so, I sold it, and now we have to execute on it. And we will.

Michaela Paukner:

So what is your secret to getting 12,000 acres done in spring?

Chris Perkins:

Lot of Red Bull. We'll be running multiple 16 row bars, 12 row bars, going this year. We got quite a few semi tenders, just to kind of keep everybody going. Got part-time guys. We've got full time guys, I'm trying to rotate them out a little bit, give them a little break after... U can only handle so many 18 and 20 hour days in a tractor, for so many days in a row, before you just literally got to get out for even just a half a day, just to get you a breather. I try to be accommodating into that. I remember in 2019, it was, man, just a disaster. The wet of the wet, never seen anything like it in my life. And we were just running one bar, at the time. And we had, I don't know, like 3000 acres that year to get across.

Chris Perkins:

And I think we got across like 22 or 2300 of it. And I remember, I had two different occasions where I was in that tractor for over 48 hours straight. And...

Michaela Paukner:

Wow.

Chris Perkins:

... [inaudible 00:41:47] when I got down, I told my wife and told a couple of the guys that work for me. And I said, "We'll never do that again. I was at misery of misery. I'm not doing that again." So I doubled down, and we got a lot more tractors and a lot more guys, we got a lot bigger. So one of the things that we try to do is, and I meet people all the time that want to get into this custom strip-tilling. "Well, how many acres can I get across with it?"

Chris Perkins:

That's not the question you need to be asking, it's how many planters can you keep this strip to a bar in front of? If I've got one planter and one strip to a bar, hell, we can get across thousands of acres with a 16 row bar, and a 16 row high speed planter. If I had one 24 row bar, I could get across thousands of acres. But what happens if you've got one 16 row bar, and you've got to get across that same thousands? Well, it's one thing, if it's one guy, it's another thing if it's five different guys. And I always tell people to take into consideration, don't go find 10 different people to do a hundred acres on, because there's no way you are going to get those 10 guys to all agree on, "Hey, I'll wait until the other guy's done."

Michaela Paukner:

Sure. Yeah.

Chris Perkins:

Go get three guys with 333 acres each, or five guys with 200 acres each. Watch the amount of acres from a planter standpoint that is on that bar, because that's what you got to watch. It's not the acres, itself. It's physically, the planters it has to stay in front of. So what we try to do is have one bar, per three to four planters, and sometimes it's four or five. But on average, it's three to four. And we try to group them together in an area, so that way we're not on the highway a lot, passing each other.

Michaela Paukner:

Oh, sure.

Chris Perkins:

So we have bars that go to devoted areas, and we go from there.

Michaela Paukner:

So it sounds like it comes back to planning again, where you found the most efficient way to make this happen, and that's why you can do what you do.

Chris Perkins:

I am not going to sit here and tell you I found the most efficient way. I found a way that allows me to at least function as a human being, without my kidneys or liver wanting to have a failure from alcohol, because I'm about to go nuts.

Michaela Paukner:

Yeah.

Chris Perkins:

What I will tell you is that we have found a way that halfway works for what we're doing, but if you think what we're doing today is the same things we were doing four years ago, versus the same thing what we'd be doing four years from now, you are sadly mistaken. Because I am all about change, and learning and getting better. I have no problem with that.

Michaela Paukner:

Thanks to Chris Perkins for joining me for today's conversation. He's slated to speak at the National Strip-Tillers Conference in Iowa City on July 29th. Head to striptillconference.com to register for two days of learning from cutting edge strip-tillers like Chris.

Michaela Paukner:

If you're looking for more podcasts about strip-till, visit striptillfarmer.com/podcasts, or check out our episode library wherever you get your podcasts. Finally, many thanks to Source by Sound Agriculture for helping to make this strip-till podcast series possible. From all of us here at Strip-Till Farmer, I'm Michaela Paukner. Thanks for listening.