Albany, Wis., native Randy Bump first witnessed the promising potential of strip-till during a road trip to Iowa in the early 2000s.
“I was visiting an innovative farmer’s large corn-on-corn operation,” Bump recalls. “The corn looked great around V7-V8, and I was like, ‘What the heck are you doing?’ He told me it was strip-till. At that moment, I wanted to start strip-tilling so bad, but there weren’t a lot of people doing it at the time, so I wasn’t sure.”
Bump, a seventh-generation farmer, was working full-time as an agronomist at the time and hiring custom work for his 1,000-acre farm. In 2014, when he returned to the farm after his uncle and dad retired, there were plenty of reasons to finally give strip-till a try.
“The potential for strip-till to work across variable soils was a big motivator for me because I have many different soil types — sandy, clay and good.” Bump says. “Being an agronomist, I’ve seen everything that works and doesn’t work. I saw the impact strip-till was having on plant health and nutrient availability. Plus, I’m a one-man band. I paid a lot of guys when our farm was under conventional tillage, and I didn’t want to keep hiring a bunch of workers. Now, with less equipment, I save a lot of money and get more done with strip-till than I did in the past.”
Bump currently strip-tills corn and no-tills soybeans. He gradually moved from a 50-50 corn-soybean rotation to now 2/3 corn and 1/3 soybeans. He tried strip-tilling soybeans for a couple years, but he only saw a 1.5-bushel advantage.
Bump strip-tills around 350 acres of continuous corn. His biggest challenge with corn-on-corn is seed to residue contact.
“Whenever seed touches residue, there’s a chance it doesn’t emerge exactly how you want it,” Bump says, which is a big reason why he makes 100% of his strips in the spring.
“Spring strip-till just works really well with my soils, and I want the corn residue to break down more in the fall,” he says. “We’ve tried fall strip-till, but it left a lot of lumps in the soil with the clay content on our hills. Plus, I don’t want to lose nutrients over the winter in our sandy soils. I don’t want to apply a ton of nitrogen (N) in the fall and not have all of it there in the spring.”
Residue control is the no. 1 key to success with strip-till corn-on-corn, Bump says, and it all starts in the fall with his John Deere S660 combine. He added Yetter Stalk Devastators to his corn heads to speed up residue breakdown, and he lays out the field for spring strips as he’s harvesting.
CORN-ON-CORN. Selecting the right hybrid can lead to easier residue management with strip-till corn-on-corn, Randy Bump says. He recommends picking a medium-height hybrid with strong disease tolerance. Image: Randy Bump
“As I’m combining one way, I’m rolling down 12 rows of corn because I have a 12-row strip-till bar,” he says. “I don’t want to strip-till the opposite way. While I’m in the combine, I’m thinking to myself, ‘OK, these 12 rows are going to go north.’ Then when I’m making strips in the spring, I go up, skip 12, and go back down. When I get to the spring, I want to make sure my row units on the strip-till bar are aggressive enough to move the residue out of the way. When I come back in with the corn planter, I don’t want my row cleaners to be digging in — I just want them floating on top.”
Hybrid selection is another crucial piece to the residue management puzzle. Bump looks for medium-height hybrids with strong emergence and disease tolerance.
“You don’t want a tall hybrid if you’re doing corn-on-corn because the taller the corn, the more residue,” Bump says. “I’m trying 40 acres of Bayer Preceon short-stature corn for the first time in 2024. It will have the same number of nodes, just compacted and shorter.”
Bump experiments with different hybrids on his test plots every year to see which ones work best. He suggests other farmers should do the same or ask their seed provider for soil type recommendations for each hybrid.
Bump uses a Moore-Built 12-row strip-till bar with Dawn Pluribus disc units and a Montag dry fertilizer cart. He used a John Deere 2510S shank machine for the first 3 years of his strip-till journey. But it plugged up all the time and required a lot of horsepower to run, prompting his switch to discs.
“I don’t see where the top yield stops in strip-till…”
“The discs only need around 15-18 horsepower, while the shanks were more than double that, at 35-40 horsepower,” he says.
Bump makes his strips 4 inches deep between April 5-10, and then he waits a few weeks before planting corn 2 inches deep with his 12-row John Deere 1760 planter set up on 30-inch spacing.
“I plant soybeans first in April, and I don’t get too excited to plant corn until May 1,” he says. “Even when my neighbors are going, I’m in no rush. I apply heavy amounts of fertilizer, and I don’t want to plant immediately right on it. The delay mellows out the soil a little bit.
“One of the best things that happens with spring strip-till is you usually get that nice ½-inch rainfall, which creates a little bit of crust in the strip. That makes it real nice to plant into, and the planter doesn’t sink into the berm as much.”
Bump’s planter has 13-wave coulters, Yetter poly spike closing wheels and Yetter drag chains.
“The drag chains flatten out the indentation created by the planter,” Bump says. “The planter boxes are the only thing I run on the planter because that berm is soft in the spring, and I want the least amount of weight going across the strip as possible. It helps minimize compaction as well.”
Bump applies a total of 320-570 pounds of fertilizer per acre with his strip-till bar, which includes N, phosphorus (P), potassium (K), sulfur, zinc, boron and other micronutrients. He uses soil tests every 3 years to determine rates. As an example, one of his lower rates in 2023 included 25 pounds of diammonium phosphate (DAP), 25 pounds of potash, 150 pounds of urea and 150 pounds of ammonium sulfate (AMS). One of the higher rates included 160 pounds of DAP, 110 pounds of potash, 150 pounds of urea and 150 pounds of AMS.
Adding to the Toolbox
Randy Bump always treats a section of his farm like a science lab, testing out new methods and products to improve his operation. He tried strip-cropping 40 acres of corn and soybeans in 2023 with 12 rows of corn and 12 rows of soybeans next to each other across the entire field. It resulted in high enough yields that he’s going to do more of it in 2024.
“I’m going to try strip-cropping 220 acres this year,” Bump says. “I’ll be strip-tilling into the soybean stubble, then planting corn in it, and rotating back and forth.”
Bump also had good luck with Bayer SmartStax Pro with RNAi technology, a corn trait for rootworm control, for the second year in 2023.
“Rootworm is my no. 1 pest for corn-on-corn,” Bump says. “I spray everything with fungicide and insecticide, but this SmartStax Pro has proven to be effective so far in eliminating rootworm.”
“My sandier fields require more P and K than my heavier soils do,” Bump says.
He also knifes in 80-100 pounds of liquid urea ammonium nitrate (UAN) and ammonium thiosulfate (ATS) around V5-V7 with his Fast Ag Solutions sidedress rig.
“There are 3 things I know corn needs: water, sunlight and N,” he says. “I’m trying to break the N up and make it more readily available to the plant when it needs it the most.”
John Deere AutoPath has been a game-changer for Bump. He uses it on everything — his strip-till bar, planter, sidedresser and combine.
“You don’t want a tall hybrid if you’re doing corn-on-corn…”
“My strip-till rig records a path for my planter to follow,” Bump says. “Then when I go out there with the planter, it tells the tractor where to go. The planter will not leave those strips. It’s the weirdest feeling. In the past, the tractor pulled the planter, but with AutoPath, it’s basically the other way around. When I come back and sidedress, I just sit in the tractor, and the sidedresser doesn’t run over any corn — it just goes down the rows.”
Bump says his dad shakes his head in disbelief when he watches him kick back and relax while AutoPath works its magic. It’s one of many important tools Bump’s added to his strip-till toolbox since switching from conventional tillage almost a decade ago, a move that’s elevating his yield cap to heights unknown.
“Every year I’m amazed at how good my yields are,” Bump says. “I don’t see where the top yield stops in strip-till, whereas in the past, with conventional tillage, there seemed to be a top number where I couldn’t go any higher. I still don’t know what that top number is with strip-till.”