By: Aaron Viner

With rains at a premium throughout the 2023 growing season, strip till may be the best option for those looking to get some field work done but conserve soil moisture.

From a conservation standpoint, reducing tillage will help soil health and improve the moisture-holding capacity of a field. That is why many agronomists and activists are pushing for no till practices to be adopted.

However, in some operations, tillage is necessary to prepare the field for the next season.

“Yes, strip tillage is a great compromise between full width tillage and no-till,” said Angie Rieck-Hinz, field agronomist with Iowa State University Extension.

“Even with the dry years we have had, it allows the strip to dry out and warm up in the spring providing ideal seedbed conditions. If spring is dry, you have limited the amount of potential water loss, conserving that moisture for crop growth.”

One of the big challenges for those looking to downsize their tillage is, like many things, money. Equipment isn’t necessarily cheap and modifying current tillage equipment can be difficult to do correctly. There are specific strip-till bars available, but for those not wanting to break the bank there are still options.

“Many folks start out by using the knives on an anhydrous applicator to make strips, or adapting planters with specific coulters and row cleaners so it can be a fairly inexpensive investment in equipment versus buying a new machine to start strip-tilling,” she said. “The most important thing to remember is that you must be able to make strips that line up with your planter so no additional tillage is needed.”

Despite rains falling in Mid-October, Lance Goettsch, DEKALB technical agronomist, said farmers likely will stick to their drought managment plan for the offseason. There could be an impact on cover crops, he said.

“The dry conditions this spring made it challenging for people to plant into cover crops,” he said. “I think people are going to try to avoid that this year.”

Strip tillage has been able to save some of the crops in northeast Iowa that only saw a few inches of rain during May or June this year, Rieck-Hinz said.

When looking ahead to 2024, Goettsch said one issue to look out for in a drought is corn rootworm, particularly in corn-on-corn fields.

“Many people may not have noticed it, but all those beetles are laying their eggs and I would anticipate some heavy pressure next season,” Goettsch said. “In extended corn-on-corn, use insecticides and other methods to reduce their amount of feeding.”

Reick-Hinz said getting tillage work done in the fall tends to be more beneficial.

“Fall usually affords drier soil conditions than spring so that is another benefit of making strips in the fall,” she said. “Strips can also be made in the spring, but conditions are likelier to be wetter and making strips in the spring may compete with time that should be spent planting, but each farmer has their own goals and may choose fall or spring."

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