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“You’ll see benefits in the first year of strip-till. The first one is better water infiltration when you have standing residue out there. Then your soil will slowly change and start alleviating the compaction naturally.”

— Jodi DeJong-Hughes, Educator, University of Minnesota Extension

When it comes to compaction, there are some things you can control and some things you can’t. As we all know, you can’t control the weather or when crops need to be planted and harvested, but you can control your loads and PSI of your tires.

Jodi DeJong-Hughes, a University of Minnesota extension educator who focuses on the physical side of soil, has been helping strip-tillers fight compaction and a host of other issues for more than 20 years. She’s joining Strip-Till Farmer for the 2022 National Strip-Tillage Conference in July to share her top tips for managing soil compaction for better strip-till outcomes.

In this episode of the Strip-Till Farmer podcast, brought to you by SOURCE by Sound Agriculture, Jodi gives us a preview of her lecture for the 2022 National Strip-Tillage Conference, discussing what you can do to deal with compaction in your fields, improve your soil health, make money on soil-saving practices and much more.

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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. 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 sond.ag to learn more. That's S-O-N-D.A-G.

Michaela Paukner:
When it comes to compaction, there are some things you can control and some things you can't. As we all know, you can't control the weather or when crops need to be planted and harvested, but you can control your loads and the PSI of your tires.

Michaela Paukner:
Jodi DeJong-Hughes, a University of Minnesota Extension Educator who focuses on the physical side of soil, has been helping strip-tillers fight compaction and a host of other issues for more than 20 years. She's joining Strip-Till Farmer for the 2022 National Strip-Tillage Conference in July to share her top tips for managing soil compaction for better strip-till outcomes.

Michaela Paukner:
In today's episode of the Strip-Till Farmer Podcast, Jodi gives us a preview of her lecture, discussing what you can do to deal with compaction in your fields, improve your soil health, make money on soil saving practices, and much more.

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
I'm Jodi DeJong-Hughes with the University of Minnesota Extension and I've been here for 25 years now. And I work mainly on the physical side to soil. So soil compaction, tillage, management, reducing erosion, that type of thing, and all of that ties into soil health. The research that I've conducted for over 20 years working with strip till, and looking at it compared to mobile plow when we're in a continuous corn situation and disk ripping. And then if it's a corn bean rotation, looking at it with chisel plow, vertical till, one time field cultivation. We've looked at quite a few different pieces of equipment. And lately we've been looking at using strip till for sugar beets.

Speaker 3:
What are some of the recent discoveries you've come across when looking at strip till and sugar beets?

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
That it doesn't hurt yield like we think. Sugar beet is such a small seed, that you really need a good seed bed for it to get going. And this last year we had three fields, that were strip tilled in the fall, and then did not have a freshening pass in the spring. And I, and I was kind of worried. I saw a lot of hair pinning of residue in the seed zone. And I was like, oh, this isn't going to work well. And all of them, all three plots did the same, as disk ripping and strip till was versus disk ripping. And I really think though, when somebody is first starting out in any new system that maybe a secondary pass would, just that really fast freshening of the berm would make it even better.

Speaker 3:
And what would that second pass do that would, in terms of what it's doing to the soil to make it better for people who are just starting out?

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
Well, when you first starting out, and starting to look at soil health, and you haven't been doing any of those practices before, and you've done a lot of tillage. Your soil's going to be chunkier. And when you're trying to get a seed into that, can be really not good. You know, you can lose your seed and get uneven depth. And then even in corn, get uneven emergence, which is not good with corn. So with strip till, especially with a shank, if you're pulling up clods and creating a few air pockets in there, and they didn't settle down and mellow out, like they, they should during winter. To take a freshening pass, just a colter pass quickly, just over the berm. You don't need to go over the residue. And what it does is just kind of breaks up those clots.

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
Now, after a few years of being in strip till, your soil's going to be healthier, it's going to respond better. It won't be so chunky and clody, it will be a lot better aggregated and more like the coffee grounds that everybody talks about. And so then you won't need a secondary pass unless something odd happens. You know, it's maybe nice to keep that in the shed, that piece of equipment, but you should need it less and less.

Speaker 3:
Do you think that doing strip till in the fall and then the freshening pass, is that a better plan of action than spring strip till?

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
Well, that is a dilemma. I would say, in Minnesota, we are a little colder than our Southern states. Even as you go from Southern Minnesota to Northern Minnesota, we have a huge change in weather. And I like to see them get some of that done in the fall, because you never know what's going to happen in the spring. And, like this year, we are barely started planting and it's May 26th. And we're worried that we won't get the corn in before the deadline. So you never know what's going to happen, so to spread out the work, I like it going in on the fall and then pick up what you can in the spring. Maybe on the sandier soils, wait till spring, just to keep them protected a little longer. And then on the clay type soils, fall is better.

Speaker 3:
Okay. That makes sense. So you're joining us for the 2022 National Strip Tillage Conference to give a lecture on managing soil compaction for better strip till outcomes. Can you give us a little bit of an overview of what you'll be talking about?

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
Well, reducing compaction is actually good for all tillage systems, and no till because in no-till you have no chance of getting any of that compaction back out of there. So we'll be talking about things that we can't control, like the weather and that you got to get planted and you're out of harvest. And sometimes the whole field isn't fit, but there are things you can control. And that is your axle loads and the PSI of your tires. And we'll talk a little bit about tracks versus tires. And then also one of the ways to alleviate compaction is either with sub soiling, with a straight shank or, and alongside that you should be building your soil health, because those little soil aggregates act like mini columns in the soil, and they help hold up the weight of equipment going over. And then, so building soil health and looking at, like I said, the PSI and the axle loads and just kind of going from there. So there's things we can control and there's things we can't.

Speaker 3:
For strip tillers specifically, what issues do they need to be thinking about when it comes to compaction?

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
If you're moving over your rows, you're going to move over into the tire track at some point. So it's important for strip till as well. So lighter equipment, look at the PSI, just try to minimize the compaction that you'll be running into. And as they build, residue can also help with traffic ability and keeping the tractor up off the soil. So that's a benefit with strip till as well. And building soil health.

Speaker 3:
Um-hmm. Talking about tracks versus tires. What are your recommendations there?

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
Well, I think the companies have sold tracks as making no compaction that they just float across the field. And compaction is based on the PSI, which gives the intensity of the compaction and then axle load, which tells you how deep that's going to go into the soil. And when you're looking at a tracked tractor, it still has all the weight actually has a little bit more weight tracks, way more than tires. And so it still pushes that compaction down. The intensity is going to be based on the configuration of that track. So there's little guide wheels in between, and they down pressure points into the soil. So if you look at a track and it's average PSI is say five, which is awesome. That's a great number. Those pressure points can put down 15 PSI. So I just don't want farmers to have a false sense of security that, just because you're floating across the field, does not mean you're not compacting.

Speaker 3:
What is a good number to aim for, for PSI? And then what is way too high?

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
If your tire is running on the road and carrying a heavy weight, it's going to need a higher PSI, so that it doesn't build up too much heat and ruin the tire and other problems with that, but in the field, because you're going slower and your weight disappears as you go across the field, you can actually lower that PSI.

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
So some of the tires, especially like Centerfield planters are at 80 to a hundred PSI, which is way too high. And when you're in the field, they can actually be down around 30. They need to look at the charts. I'm not recommending these numbers. They need to go look at the actual numbers from the companies, but a level that I like to see the tractors at properly inflated around 10 PSI, anything more than 10 PSI, you're starting to push that compaction, that intensity deeper into the soil, where it's going to be harder to control it with a tillage. And then with axle loads, I like to see those around 10, if you have good soil and five, if you are just starting out and you have your soil health, isn't very good, because a healthier soil can take heavier weight.

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
And a lot of our equipment is nowhere near five ton an axle. Okay. So there's a reason why we have compaction, because our equipment is huge. And, oh, and we might talk a little bit too about controlled traffic. So if you do have this heavy equipment, let's just put it in certain areas of the field and not track it all over the place.

Speaker 3:
Is controlled traffic, always a good idea?

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
It's not as easy to get there with all the equipment, that you know, I've worked with farmers where we try to figure out if they've had triples, now you can go down to singles and you're not going to get the flotation with singles as you would with your duals or triples on, but you want to concentrate all that compaction into one area.

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
Now, the problem with that is everything has to be lined up width wise. And so as you buy new equipment, think about that. I'm not saying you go change out your whole line right now, of your combines, grain carts, tractors, sprayers, no, let's do that as you go. But the main thing to control is the heaviest items out there, which is usually the grain cart. And instead of like, if you fill up on the go with the tractor, and then you go at a diagonal back to the field entrance, that's putting 80% of your compaction happens up to 80% on the first pass.

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
So you're taking a loaded grain cart, across at a diagonal. That's going to create a lot of compaction. And instead, if you can follow the old combine tracks, like if you fill up on the side that the combine has already driven on follow those tracks to the end of the field, take that back to the Headlands. And that way you would minimize the amount of traffic that's out in the field. So the grain cart's the most important one.

Speaker 3:
Okay. And then in terms of deep tillage, why is that not the good solution to compaction?

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
Well, one, you got to know where your compaction is located. So in Minnesota and probably the Northern corn belt, you're going to see more wheel traffic. And I can always find wheel traffic when I'm in soil pits. It it's kind of U-shaped and it's always there. Sometimes there's a plow pan, and then sometimes there's deep compaction, but where we live, we don't have that deeper compaction, but down south, they may.

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
So depending where you live, is sub soiling may not help you. And in soils with a higher pH and with shrink swell soils, the ones that crack in the summertime, the ones that shrink when they're dry, those cracks are doing deep tillage. Down South, they don't have those soils, so it's going to be depending on your soils, what's going to work for you.

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
So up here, sub soiling doesn't work as well. One, because we have the shrink swell soils. Two, because a lot of it can be wheel traffic, which you got to make sure that your shank hits that wheel traffic to bust it up. And three, it's a lot of horsepower. We're talking 30 to 50 horsepower per shank to pull it. And then you don't need to pull it at 20 inches. What it's set from the factory.

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
If you have compaction, your tire traffic compaction usually stays in the top foot where you can see it, maybe a little bit deeper, but if you have a plow pan, that's something that's a little more consistent and horizontally across the soil down. And it's usually six to eight inches because people have been using chisel plow for a long time in Minnesota, we've gone to disk ripping, which is deeper, which had ripped that out.

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
But now, we're starting to form plow pans at 10, 12 inches. So the more you rip it out, the deeper your compaction can go. So if you have a plow pan that you know, is there, then a shank can help kind of rip it back up. But what it does, is destroys the aggregates, those structures, those little columns in the soil that help hold up equipment. And then the equipment that means if you drive back on it, you can actually sink down to that depth that you pulled it. So if you have a compacted pan at like six inches only set that the sub soil are just seven inches, don't go deeper. Don't keep it at 20 when you're wasting fuel. And two, now you're set up for a compaction down to 20 inches.

Michaela Paukner:
Before Jodi talks about carbon markets. I'd like to thank our sponsor Sourced 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, take 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.ag. Now let's get back to the conversation.

Speaker 3:
So what's happening when the compaction moves down, is that you're the soil isn't able to hold you. So then it all the weight just goes down to whatever level you didn't revolve?

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
Yeah. Yeah. And think about stepping into the field right after you've done tillage, you sink it's nice and fluffy. So what tillage does is, it breaks apart those aggregates, your columns in the soil and it introduces air. And that's nice for warmup, but, how much weight can air hold up? Nothing. Right? So gravity will pull the soil back down. You don't even need to put weight on it. Gravity will do it. So the more you till the more you need to till, and we're trying to get out of that cycle and show all the benefits of soil health and a well structured soil, and it can help in so many different aspects.

Speaker 3:
And then, another technique of dealing with compaction would be to rely on the freeze thaw cycle, but that's not adequate either. Can you explain why?

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
Well, I think freeze thaw cycles, the way that we said those always helped break up compaction was a few generations ago. And that's when we had a much lighter equipment. So it wasn't compacting so deep into the soil. You know, it's only compacting the top five, six inches, and that's what frost takes care of. And we also had more different crops in rotation.

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
If you had alfalfa, that had a tap root that broke it up, and also that you have a perennial in there for three, four years, and now we're to corn beans we're limited on our rotation. And we have heavier equipment put in compaction deeper and freeze thaw. You need multiple freeze thaw cycles. And in Minnesota, we're good at freezing, but not thawing multiple times, mainly just in the surface, you get that freeze thaw where compaction can go three plus feet into the soil and you get one freeze there, one thaw, and it takes dozens of those to break it up. So just because we push compaction down deeper, freeze thaw won't take care of it. But wetting and drying can, if you have the expanding clay in your soil, that helps even more so than freeze thaw.

Speaker 3:
How long does it take for a strip tiller to start to see some of the benefits of addressing compaction, if they're minimizing PSI, switching to strip till from deep tillage, things like that?

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
Oh, that's always a good question. With compaction, it depends if they have the soils that shrink and swell, that will naturally help out. With the residue, they'll be able to wick water into the soil. And the residue has a lighter bulk density than most soils. And so it will wick water in. So the water's not ponding.

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
So I'm not sure if there's like a, you could say in four years, you're going to have this wonderful soil and never have compaction again, that's not going to happen, but you'll start seeing smaller changes over..., and the first one is better water infiltration. When you have standing residue out there, the first year of strip till you'll see benefits, and then your soil will slowly change over and it will start alleviating the compaction. Naturally the biology will come in and you know, those microbes are so fantastic and, nine billion microbes and a cup of soil, all their sticky substances and stuff will start adhering that soil together and creating that structure. And, and it takes a while for them to get up and going and have a home for them to work their best. So I can't give you an exact number. I wish I could. And also with strip till you usually do in less passes across the field, so you have less wheel traffic out there. And that will start showing the benefits too.

Speaker 3:
And this year in particular, what are some of the common questions that you're getting from strip tillers?

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
Why can't I get in the carbon markets now, which is one of them, cause they've already been doing good things and some of the companies won't look back very far. So that's one of the things that the Minnesota corn growers wanted us to go out and talk about more, is carbon markets and what is carbon.

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
So I think I have a table talk also that we can talk about, you know, farmers have been farming carbon this whole time. That's not what we call it. Residue is about 45, 50% carbon. And your organic matter is about 55, 60% carbon and everything they do out there changes those carbon pools and strip till helps keep more carbon down. Plus they're not emitting as much carbon because they're in the tractor less. So soil health affects so many aspects. So if you want to improve your carbon content in the soil, you improve your soil health. If you want to reduce erosion, you improve your soil health. If you want to reduce compaction and are set up for less compaction, improve your soil health. And so there's so many aspects that improving structure in your soil can help the farmer with.

Speaker 3:
For sure, for carbon markets. Are there specific qualities of a certain program that a farmer should look for, that they can feel confident that it's a good program to join?

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
Well, I get a lot of comments from farmers of, why should we help companies greenwash, buy carbon, but still be able to pollute carbon. And there are different, many different companies out there. And quite a few of them are looking seriously at what they're doing insetting, what they're doing in their company versus buying carbon credit. So you can go find companies that have your values as well, and go find those markets.

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
Another thing is, what if the price of carbon changes in the middle of your contract? Will it go up for you as well? So, keep that in mind, again, what happens if you can't put in cover crops? Or can't do the change in management? You know, what does that company do? Most of them will just say, okay, if you can put it in next year, you'll get paid next year, but can you do that?

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
If you're going to put in a cover crop, say after wheat and the next year you're going to beans and you can't get in a cover crop. So, if that cover crop is dependent on the rotation. So be careful with that.

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
The other thing is, some of them will pay the landlord and not you, not the renter. So check that out, make sure and contract wise, you're not going to see a change in carbon in five years. You really won't. That's what is difficult for me. I would like to see them give credit for not emitting carbon, because we can quantify that. So if you have two less passes with your tractor, we know almost exactly how much carbon that's not emitting and being able to test your soil to see what kind of carbon you're holding down. That's a lot more difficult and the speed at which you can hold it down, definitely ranges across the US. As you go further North, you can hold down less carbon just because of the weather.

Speaker 3:
What's the ideal structure for these programs, in your opinion? So people who are already doing these practices are getting paid, but then we're also encouraging people who aren't to do them?

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
Well, I like that they're paying the ones, some companies are paying back, because those farmers already know it works and you have less risk. You know, they're going to do this for the length of the contract because they already are. The new ones, if you can end your contract anytime and just not get paid from then on out, there's no real incentive to stay in it. And so, if a farmer tries it for two years, that's really not doing too much for the soil at that time.

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
And the other thing that I like to see is, or for farmers to check out, is the farmer getting credit that carbon credit and they're not. So if one of the companies is buying carbon for Microsoft, Microsoft is getting that credit for that carbon, not the farmer that they bought it from.

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
And now let's say later, the soybean growers or the corn growers, wheat growers need to, their government's looking at them saying, okay, what are you doing to improve carbon? And they say, well, we're selling a lot of our credits. Well, you don't get credit for that. The person who bought the credit gets it. So I've been seeing more farmer owned ones, starting up as brokers, to broker their own carbon credits. And I think that's the good idea, or to make sure that they get credit for what they're doing as well. It's just new right now. And so, those things will be worked out and I've been kind of having farmers hold off, but I have one farmer say I put everything in. And I said, you did? What prompted that? And he says, I was going to start these strip tilling everything. And he said, I might as well get in now. And then five years when that contract's up, then he can re-enroll in some other aspects.

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
So yeah, I'd do whatever you're comfortable with, and just know that the risks and I mean, it's like marketing their corn and buying fertilizer and everything else. It's just one more thing they get to manage, but there's also a government programs that can double up with, and that they can actually get a lot more money from equip, than they can for the carbon credits. But put them together, and that really helps reduce the risk to try new management.

Speaker 3:
Yeah, for sure. In Europe, right now, the prices for carbon are way higher than they are here. Something like $150 for a credit versus like $25 here. So do you anticipate that the market here will grow to meet that?

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
You don't want me giving marketing advice? I'm the one who always buys my door at the high price and you know, I am just, I think I know what's going to happen. I am saying to strip till companies get out there and make sure you have strip till equipment that can go in 20, 22s and 30 inch rows, because the more, more and more farmers are asking about strip till.

Speaker 3:
Do you have any advice to farmers who are thinking about strip till, but not sure if it's something that they can or should implement?

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
Well, we're in Minnesota. We actually can say we're the most further North state. Well, mostly, and strip till works. You may need a secondary pass if you have a lot, a ton, literally tons of residue. Like if you're corn on corn, and a continuous corn, but we've been showing that in the berm has the same temperature as disk ripping. And in some years, the same as mower plowing, it warms up very nice and dries out very nice in that berm. And then underneath the residue, it is cooler and wetter, but the erosion protection, the traffic ability aspect, the water infiltration, water storage, nothing can beat strip till on that.

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
And I would say just try it. I think our biggest barrier right now is, the price of equipment and wanting to try it on some acres and not all the acres. So if you have a dealer near you, or somebody who will custom, so you see pockets of strip tillers, blooming, because they have each other to rely on and they can try the equipment from somebody, their neighbor.

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
And then, you can see how it works before they commit to the equipment. But that is a number one barrier on all of the surveys we have, is the price of equipment. And just being able to put down some, or all of your nutrients with your strip tiller saves you a pass. If you have very low or very high pH soils, you can band it. If you band apply, your nutrients are more available longer, versus broadcast incorporate, because like a high pH soil and very low pH soils can actually tie up phosphorus. I wouldn't reduce your nitrogen rates, but your phosphorus, you can, if you're banding in those high or low pH soils.

Speaker 3:
Okay. So your advice is to ban versus broadcast if possible?

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
Yep. And one, the nutrients are secured. You know, they're not sitting on the surface and I, if you had the soil erosion, it's not taking as many nutrients with it.

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
If they're in strip till they're usually not broadcast incorporating anymore, they may, when they side dress, they may put down urea and then they should stabilize it. Thinking that rain cloud's going to come to help push it down into the soil, doesn't always happen. So they need to stabilize it. So it doesn't volatilize back into the atmosphere. And that's another thing with the carbon markets that I think we can take more advantage of is doing better nitrogen management. Because nitrous oxide is like 278 times more potent than carbon dioxide. And so if we can control how much we lose to volatilization, one, that really helps the farmer, especially with the price of fertilizer right now. And two, it helps with greenhouse gases. It's in the carbon markets. They'll do that too. And so I think that's one not to skip, look at that, because doing more precision application of your fertilizer and a little more soil sampling, you probably could qualify to have that underneath the carbon markets.

Speaker 3:
Okay. And was there anything else you wanted to mention that I haven't asked you about?

Jodi DeJong-Hughes:
We've changed out our hybrids, our fertilizers, how we apply them and how much we apply. We've changed every aspect, our equipment. So I think it's time for farmers to look at tillage. We have a very strong belief that a good farmer tills his soils black, and that has changed. And some farmers go, oh, I did. You're saying I did it wrong this whole time. No, we just didn't know. I mean, the biology of the soil, only 1% of those microbes can be grown in a laboratory. We're just learning the tip of the iceberg of what's happening out there. And so it's fairly new data and it, they're not doing it wrong, but I think anybody not just farming, but in any company needs to keep looking at how to move forward, and how to change things, and how to be more effective, and use less resources, and make more money. And you know, all of that. And I think going to strip till can do that for quite a few farmers.

Michaela Paukner:
Thanks to Jodi DeJong-Hughes for joining me for today's conversation. She's speaking in our premier lecture series at the National Strip Tillage Conference in Iowa on July 28th. Go to striptillconference.com to register for two days of learning from dozens of industry experts like Jody, and other cutting edge strip tillers. 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.