We're in the back half of winter, and planting season will soon be in full swing. Here are some tips, observations and insights from strip-till veterans and industry leaders to think about before hopping in the planter this spring. 

Try “Crazy Early” Soybeans 

“If there’s anything you can do with soybeans, move the planting date earlier. I don’t care if you’re no-till or strip-till, do everything in your power to get that average planting date earlier.

“We first gave early soybeans a try in March 2018. We planted 4 acres at 3 different planting depths (1.5 inches, 1.75 inches and 2 inches). If we didn’t change the planting depth, I don’t think I’d be where we are with strip-till soybeans today. If we didn’t go deeper, I wouldn’t be here saying March soybeans can work. We had about 18 inches of snow April 20. The planting depth was very important that year.” 

          — Ryan Nell, Juneau, Wis., from Crazy Early Strip-Till Soybeans presentation at National Strip-Tillage Conference

Understand How Plants Grow to Determine Fertilizer Placement

“The science behind fertility placement has improved tremendously over the years. Broadcast fertilizer should be a thing of the past. We should put the fertilizer in the ground where the plant’s going to find it. The plant doesn’t have eyes, hands or a nose. It has to run to the fertilizer. If you put fertility right in front of the plant, it will find it, and you’ll succeed and profit from it.

“Did you know corn has two different root systems involved in its early growth? Fertilizer placement makes a difference in the first 45 days of growth. For example, if you’re using boron, you need to apply it during the first 45 days of life. Manganese needs to be applied in the first 15 days. If you don’t apply it in the first 15 days, you’re out of luck. Knowing what goes on in those first 45 days is really important. It makes a difference in how we feed the plant, and using a strip-till system helps make it happen.”

          — Mike Petersen, Greeley, Colo., from Learning from the Past to Move Strip-Till Forward presentation at National Strip-Tillage Conference

Spring Strip-Till Pays off in Corn Belt

“We are 50% spring strips ahead of corn, which is uncommon in our area. Strip-till in Illinois only accounts for about 3-5% of total acres overall, but it’s especially uncommon when it comes to spring strip-till ahead of corn.

“The primary reason for that is the plant back window that you have on your nitrogen. We are about 65% anhydrous, and then we usually sidedress with liquid. We did things a little bit differently in 2022, just based on the weather pattern, as well as what worked from a management standpoint. We’ve really liked what we’ve seen out of the spring strips ahead of corn. We had about a 20 bushel-per-acre yield advantage in a year with a lot of lodging, late season cannibalism and flat corn.

          — Shay Foulk, Sparland, Ill., Strip-Till Rates, Economics & Planning presentation at National Strip-Tillage Conference

Don’t Be Afraid to Cut Fertilizer Rates

“If you cut your corn for silage and harvest that, you’re removing a lot of potassium (K) off that field and you need to put a lot back on. My son is in charge of running the checkbook now, and in 2022, with the price of potash, he said, “Let’s skimp as much as we can.” We cut our rates across the board on everything, but we felt that we wouldn’t get dinged too much on our yields because of our placement. If phosphorus (P) and K prices stay where they’re at, then the next thing we’ll probably look at is figuring out how to get liquid P in a band on our planter in that seed trench and maybe going in between the seed.”

          — Steve Tesarik, Whitelaw, Wis., from Strip-Till Toolbar Setup: What, Why & How presentation at National Strip-Tillage Conference

Be Flexible with Crop Protection Products 

“Make sure you’re using a quality product. Even with strip-till, use an effective weed control program. Be flexible. Maybe you can’t get your preferred product, but there’s probably some effective products that are still available to you. Think about alternate technologies.

“I think of strip-till as a progressive way of farming because you’re trying to use Mother Nature to your advantage. But at the same time, make sure that you’re providing the best opportunities for those seeds. At the end of the day, find your right program. Northern Minnesota is very different than southern Illinois, for example. Keep that in mind as you start talking to your consultants.”

          — Brock Waggoner, Salem, Ill., from Strategies for Successful Strip-Till Weed Control presentation at National Strip-Tillage Conference.

Soil Analysis Results are Only as Good as the Test

“You want a soil sample that is representative of the field area that you want to manage. Once you get that perfect soil sample taken, and you send it to a reputable lab, what do you ask for? There are a lot of different packages and prices. But I really encourage people to order a complete soil test analysis. That will include things like the CEC, pH, primary nutrients, micronutrients and organic matter.

“In a strip-till situation, where do you take your core samples? My first question to that would be, are you going to be planting on the same trips every year, or are you going to offset them? I think it would make a difference. If all you’re doing is concentrating on that one band, you can concentrate more of your soil cores in that band. But as a general statement, what I have seen from most literature, if you take one core right down the middle of your strip, then you need to take at least two off the side of the strip or even out into the middle. That’s the general rule of thumb.”

          — Jon Leif, St. Johns, Mich., from Back 2 Basics: Soil Testing & Nutrition presentation at National Strip-Tillage Conference

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