It is never too early to start thinking about the future, especially with high input costs and supply chain issues creating additional challenges for growers. Strip-tillers Jon Stevens of Rock Creek, Minn., Ryan Nell of Beaver Dam, Wis., and Ryan Shaw of Snover, Mich., talked about challenges in their operations, and how they plan to approach the 2023 growing season during a panel discussion at the 2022 National Strip-Tillage Conference. 

Q: What are you driving, what are you pulling, and what are you planting?

Shaw: We’re pulling a 12-row ETS SoilWarrior with Case IH Row Quad. We plant corn, soybean, sugar beets and some cereal.

Nell: We use a 12-row Gladiator and a John Deere tractor for pulling. We plant corn, beans and a little bit of wheat.

Stevens: Massey 8660 with a B&H bar. We plant corn, beans, barley, oats, wheat and hay.

Q: Based on input costs today, what changes are you planning to make to your fertilizer and herbicide programs in 2023?

Shaw: Last year, we built a band sprayer. We started band spraying some of our herbicides and some of our first leaf spot sprays over our sugar beets just to lighten the chemical load.

Nell: For herbicides, with some of the cover crop shortages, I wanted to make sure we weren’t making any extra passes because of the covers. We are changing our program a little bit — not really adding extra costs, but just more focused on timing. For fertilizer, we will do a little more crop removal, rather than doing some builds, but we’re looking at going to a 24-row with fertilizer on it for next year. I think we’ll be banding.

Stevens: We might look into a weed wipe for next year to see if that could bring any value to us and then just work harder on the proper timing. On the fertility plan, we’re partnering with Kemp to do some trials next year and bring in more tissue sampling and try to be more focused on the management side instead of just broad pounds. And bring in more natural fertility into the soil with cover crops.

Q: What environmental challenges are you looking at tackling in 2023? 

Stevens: We’re located on the St. Croix Watershed, 2 miles from the St. Croix River and just an hour north of several million people. Runoff and erosion are big concerns for our area and a big driving force behind our whole soil health approach.

Nell: Not a whole lot from what we changed this last year. We really jumped into planting a cereal rye cover crop in front of soybeans this last year. About half of our acres are covered in the fall. I don’t know if we’re going to increase that going into corn. I like it in front of beans but not so much in front of corn. We’re pretty much almost 100% fall strip-till. On the fertilizer side, we want to try to manage that band a little more than what we have been doing. We are not changing a whole lot from one year to the next.

Shaw: Environmentally, we never move our zone. We’re always planting in the same strip. Last year, we didn’t put enough priority on making our strips over our twin-row corn stalks, and we couldn’t make up that time in the spring because a second pass would’ve just dried it out more and made things worse. We’re going to prioritize this fall to get over all those corn stalks. If we don’t make strips in the soybean stubble and if it doesn’t need the fertility, we can always do that in the spring or no-till it in. We’d also like to get 100% of our acres back into cover crops. Last year, we fell a little bit short on some of our sugar beet ground. That beet ground was just black all winter long. We want to get that covered.

Q: Looking ahead to 2023 are you thinking about making any changes or additions to your crop rotation?

Stevens: I would really like to see if we couldn’t keep trying the living cover on a few acres, more crop rotation and diversity there. I would be curious if we couldn’t either move to some banding behind the strip-till bar or the planter. Like our grandparents, when times were tough, they weren’t just writing checks to the co-ops like we do. I’ve had a few old guys give me quite a few lectures on that.  They didn’t apply herbicides on the whole field, they just protected the plant. I wonder if that kind of stuff works nowadays. And then with the green manure behind the small grains, we are a yield-limited environment. That’s why I asked if your soil is pretty rich, because we are the opposite. We are low on P and K, organic matter, pH and missing some topsoil. But other than that, it is a beautiful place. But the fun part of it is that small grains work really well. We lack some markets for that. But we can make up for some of that stuff because, at the $1,000-a-ton fertilizer, we can green manure behind it just like grandpa did, and not have that expense.

Nell: I think, with crop rotation, we did make some changes this spring. We added more corn-on-corn to the system. Since we stripped for both, we just made a freshener pass for the corn-on-corn. Even with the extra cost of nitrogen, we still thought... And when we could sell corn for that price as well. But I think for 2023, compared to the last couple of years, maybe our corn-on-corn will be a little higher. The wheat acres stay about the same. Those only go on certain pieces of ground, but from a rotation-wise, nothing is going to change too much there.

 Shaw: We want to get a few more acres of small grains. We grow 100 acres of cereal rye to keep for seed, but to get a few more acres of that, because the best way to get the neighbors to start using cover crops is to give them some seed. We are in a pretty diverse area. I mean, they grow pickles and potatoes and stuff, but we would like to get into some edible beans or possibly some non-GMO beans, just to spread ourselves out a little bit. And I think it was mentioned at one or the other, maybe Ryan’s, that the sugar beets, we would like to extend that rotation out to have four or five years in between the sugar beets being grown on each chunk.

 Q: Are you eyeing any new technology for the upcoming year?

Nell: Can you get it? We did order some new 4640 screens and 6,000 globes that finally came in. So, we went to passive implement guidance on both of our strip-till bars and planters. Other than that, nothing really from a technology standpoint that we are going to do differently.

Stevens: I’m on the ag leader side, and I’m content with what I have. We are good to go.

Shaw: Sometimes I think, to be completely honest, we may have too much technology on our farm. We have an immense amount of data that we aren’t using the technology we have to its full potential. We are quite a few years behind sorting through all that data. Before we add anything else to it, I think we are going to spend some time over the winter and really dive into that and see how we get the maximum potential out of the technology we have.