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On this episode of the Strip-Till Farmer podcast, brought to you by Yetter Farm Equipment, Galva, Ill., strip-tiller Brian Corkill shares the ups and downs of his cover cropping journey. 

Listen in as Corkill leads a classroom session at the 2023 National Strip-Till Conference on how to manage unique interactions between different cover crop species and strip-tilled cash crops, and the key to seeding cover crops quickly at a low cost. 

He covers the critical variables to consider when implementing cover crops with strip-till, including timing, placement and termination. Corkill also shares several details about his strip-till system, including nutrient management strategies and more!  



Yetter Farm Equipment

The Strip-Till Farmer podcast is brought to you by Yetter Farm Equipment.

Yetter Farm Equipment has been providing farmers with solutions since 1930. Today, Yetter is your answer for finding the tools and equipment you need to face today’s production agriculture demands. The Yetter lineup includes a wide range of planter attachments for different planting conditions, several equipment options for fertilizer placement, and products that meet harvest-time challenges. Yetter delivers a return on investment and equipment that meets your needs and maximizes inputs. Visit them at

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Full Transcript

Noah Newman:

Hello and welcome to another edition of the Strip-Till Farmer Podcast, brought to you by Yetter Farm Equipment. I'm your host, Noah Newman, technology editor and today's strip-tiller, Brian Corkill, is going to share the ups and downs of his cover-cropping journey. We'll listen in as Corkill leads a classroom session at the 2023 National Strip-Till Conference as he covers the critical variables to consider when implementing cover crops with strip-till, including timing, placement and termination. Corkill also shares several details about his strip-till system, including nutrient management strategies and more.

Brian Corkill:

My name's Brian Corkill. I farm about an hour and a half northwest of here, so anybody from that area, I farm in the Kewanee/Galva area. My house is almost dead center between Peoria and the Quad Cities, so that's my geography. My family's always been a little bit towards the conservation-minded side, so we were one of the first farming operations in our area that back in the early, sometime in the '70s, I was a little kid then, but started conservation tillage. I can remember we started no-tilling in, I think it was 1983, which is probably one of the worst years in the world that you could have started trying to no-till with the drought and everything and just the equipment that we had at our disposal at that time. Nothing was really set up for no-till, but we tried it and we stuck with it.

Then we kept expanding no-tilling and over a period of, it probably took us maybe 20 years to get to full no-till, because we had some fields where our biggest problem was, we were growing a lot of corn on corn and it was hard to make that work at that time, so we were doing tillage on corn on corn, but in the late '90s, we moved to strip-till, so our very first strip-till bar actually wasn't really a tillage tool and we only did it on bean stubble, but we took a toolbar. It was 12 rows and we had markers on it and we actually just put row cleaners on it and we went out and ran in the spring ahead of planting time just to clear strips off that we planted back into. We did that for about two years and then probably in about 1998, 1999, we actually started using an anhydrous bar and strip-tilling in the fall, putting anhydrous on for our nitrogen source.

We did that for a couple years and then we actually bought a real strip-till bar. Then we continued to just do anhydrous for a few years and then probably in the mid-2000s, we moved to adding dry fertilizer. We had the opportunity to buy a used dry fertilizer cart and tying that into our system, because we realized the importance of putting in, we had some farms that were high in magnesium, so we had issues with nutrients getting tied up. We had found, we'd been doing some, for a couple years, our retailer had an airflow machine. We were, rather than broadcasting with the airflow machine, we were actually stripping fertilizer and saw some benefit out of that, so that's when we decided to add fertilizer to our strip-till system. Ever since then, we've put on dry fertilizer. Actually, last fall, I've gone completely away from anhydrous, so we're all in crop on nitrogen. We started adding cover crops in about, it was 2011 was when we first started planting cover crops, so we added that in there, so then just trying to figure out how all that plays together.

Quite honestly, when we first started planting cover crops, it was for a pretty simple reason, and I imagine it is with a lot of people. We were looking to prevent soil erosion and maybe help with compaction in certain areas, because we weren't doing any tillage. A couple years after doing that, I was at a cover crop conference in Decatur and saw a presentation from Dr. Jim Hoorman, who was at Ohio State University at the time, and he talked a lot about soil health. It was like a light bulb went off in my head that, okay, we don't need to be looking at this from an erosion standpoint or a compaction standpoint, that there can be a lot larger benefits to planting a cover crop, whether it's improving soil health, but also with some of the benefits it can provide as far as nutrient management.

Anyways, that's what I'm going to talk about today. Feel free at any point in time, if you have a question, to go ahead and ask a question, or if we want to wait till the end, we can do that, too. Yeah, there's what I've already covered. 2012 is when we started cover crops. Time flies and you forget. Yeah, now, as I stated, we shifted our focus to more on improving soil health and nutrient management, trying to develop a system. I don't ever feel like you ever get that system completely figured out because this year, I thought I had things figured out, but Mother Nature had other ideas this spring, and there's some things that I'm going to reconsider and try to tweak based on what I learned this year. Some of the stuff that we, and it was a series of events in my case this year.

Typically, I like to do my strip-tilling in the fall. Like I say, I've gone away from anhydrous, so I don't put any nitrogen on other than what's in. I put on MEZ and potassium, so whatever little bit of nitrogen's in the MEZ, but make my strips in the fall get the dry fertilizer applied in the fall. Last fall, the tractor that I had to pull the strip-till bar with went down on day one, just as I was getting started, so I wasn't able to get anything done last fall. Also, I had my fertilizer purchased already and had a contract, so it was a fairly decent price because I'd prepaid it versus what it was during the fall, so I had to have it broadcast, which isn't my normal go-to plan, but sometimes, you've got to change things on the fly.

I ended up, got the tractor back over the winter. I did go in and just make strips this spring, and this is probably the worst spring you could do that. I run a knife-type strip-till bar, so I basically dried out that whole profile because we didn't have a lot of rain in the spring. We did have a decent rain after we planted our corn, but it just dried out so fast. My corn compared to some other neighbors and stuff that were either no-till or strip-till last fall, I was lagging at that point. Most of those didn't have cover crops, so that was part of the issue, too. I put on my first nitrogen application this spring with my herbicide just as the corn was starting to spike through and it didn't rain after that for, I don't know, I had a 10th from May 7th to June 28th.

Yeah, I didn't get any rain to incorporate that. It got tied up in the residue. I did come back at, oh, it was probably V5, V6 and we, just right before we started getting some rains, I think I had some stuff on. It was about a week before it started raining and now things look fantastic now, but we'll see when the combine rolls through, what some of the early season issues that we had, how that affected us, but things look really good now. One thing I will say, as I was walking fields and, yeah, our stuff was a little more uneven and didn't look as pretty as some of the neighbors when we were getting into that middle June period and we'd been dry for a long time, some of their fields were, I felt like were suffering a little bit more than ours because I think some of our, it had finally gotten big enough, it was getting to some moisture that we had some protection because we had the cover crop and maybe saved a little bit moisture at that point that it could finally find.

I felt like it handled the stress a little bit more later on, but just don't know how much it would've affected us upfront. One of the things I think I'm going to do before next year, rather than putting on my first pass of nitrogen with a sprayer, I think I'm going to add it to my planter, because I'm currently not putting nitrogen on with my planter. I put on in-furrow starter. I run four gallons of 10-34-0 and some zinc. That's what I've been doing, but I think now, I'm probably going to go add where I can put some, at least the first base amount of nitrogen on with the planter rather than broadcasting it, so hopefully, it gets better utilization early in the season. This is what I was planting into this spring. I'm just sitting there in the planter tractor and looking back, so that's been planted and planted into those strips into cover crops.

I have a pretty decent strip. I think the key in corn, and I don't mind, so you've got to be careful. Corn versus soybeans, those are two different animals completely. Especially planting green, like I like to do, you've got to be pretty careful ahead of corn. For several years, I was running cereal rye in a cover crop mix ahead of corn. It's not hard to terminate, but you really have to stay on top of it because once it gets the right weather, it can really take off in a short period of time in the spring and cause some issues with, if it gets too tall, then corn has a hard time getting sunlight and the corn gets leggy and you can have some issues that way.

This past fall, I've went to using triticale and winter barley, so those aren't as aggressively growing early on in the spring like a cereal rye would be, so they're a little bit easier to manage. I haven't gotten to the point, and that's something that I'm going to start working with a little bit this fall. I'm not putting in any legumes or anything like that at this point in time because we seed our cover crop in the fall and labor gets to be an issue, too. Having someone that's dedicated to doing that, keeping up with the combine has been a problem. A lot of times, a lot of our cover crop gets seeded after harvest and right ahead of the strip-till bar. That's one of the things I want to touch on here. Ideally, you would want to have that cover crop already growing before you strip-till because then you blow it out of the strip and you have a nice clean strip and you have a nice clean strip to plant into in the spring.

A lot of times in our case, where we can run into issues is if it gets seeded maybe three or four days ahead of the strip-till bar, you don't have germination yet. You run the strip-till bar through, all you're doing is mixing seed into the strip and then the next spring, it grows in your strip and then you've got to deal with a cover crop in your strip. That can cause issues in a corn system. With soybeans, we just broadcast it. All of our cover crops ahead of soybean and ahead of corn, too, just a vertical tillage tool with an air seeder on it and just broadcast it and incorporate it all in one pass. That works great for soybeans. It works good ahead of corn if you can get it done early enough before you have to strip-till because, like I say, I like to have a clean strip in the spring, but if you don't have it already growing in the fall before you strip-till, it's going to come up in your strip in the spring and can potentially cause issues there.

I've got a 24-row John Deere planter and it also helps. We have clean sweep for row cleaners so I can put down pressure on my row cleaners and clean a strip with the planter that I planted to, but it's a 30-inch row planter. I've done a little bit. When we were doing anhydrous, that made it hard to do, just because it took so much more time. When I'm strip-tilling, you've got dry fertilizer. You've got anhydrous. Neither one of them run out at the same time, so you're spending a lot of time. It's just logistically trying to get acres covered, so I haven't done a lot ahead of soybeans, but now that I'm just strictly dry fertilizer in the fall, I'm going to start working.

We haven't been in the past. We haven't been necessarily planning on strip-tilling ahead of soybeans. Sometimes, we did if time allowed, but we already had the fertilizer applied, so I was just making a strip. I wasn't putting fertilizer in that strip, didn't really see any benefit out of it, but I think I've done a little bit, not enough that I'm super comfortable with yet, but I think adding the fertilizer in the strip ahead of soybeans is where the difference is going to come. Still beyond 30-inch, I don't have any issue. Really, you don't have too many issues planting into a green cover crop with soybeans. I know guys that plant 15-inch beans into a broadcast cover crop. I know some guys that actually take their 15-inch row planter and use that to plant the cover crop in the fall and then they can offset and plant in those gaps then the following spring. They already have a strip.

Maybe they didn't use a strip-till bar, but they have an open strip where the beans can get going and they don't have necessarily the competition from the cover crop. I've planted into cereal rye that's that tall and planted beans and not had an issue. Once in a while, I do have an issue, depending on whether the residue. That cereal rye, I go in and terminate it. I terminate chemically. I would like to be able to roll it down. I want to try that first, but it's hard. In my area, nobody does that and no dealers are willing to bring in a roller so that you can demo it, so I haven't been able to work with that yet. I hope to at some time, because I think that'd be really beneficial. I think in my case, I like to plant my soybeans early, but I don't want to terminate it that early because I want it to get some growth to it to get more benefit out of it.

I think there's been a lot of promising things that I've seen from rolling, even when your beans are at V2 stage and going in and rolling, get that, even if you would terminate that cover crop with Roundup or whatever product you use, but being able to go in after that and roll it down and get it matted down, so then the soybeans have less competition to grow against. Sometimes, that might be too late for as early as I plant my soybeans. That's what I'm concerned about. I'm probably going to base that more off of soybean stage. Back when we used to plant corn first and then soybeans, it was an easier decision. If I had the ability to do it, it would've been an easier decision because it matched up time-wise, but we found that we were getting better soybean yields by planting early in April, doing that first and then planning.

A lot of years, I think this is probably the first year in five or six, probably five years that I planted any corn in April. Most of my corn gets planted in early May and still get just as good a yield as we always have, but we've gotten better yields by planting our soybeans first, so timing things. Anyways, that's my strip-till bar. I run a TwinBin for dry fertilizer so I can variable rate my MEZ map and sulfur and then pot ash because almost every application we make on the farm's variable rate. That's why we wanted to go to a TwinBin so we can variable rate those individual products.

Yeah, we've already been talking about nutrient management. We really started focusing more on it about 10 years ago. Over our period of time since, like I say, about 2007, 2008 when we started adding dry fertilizer to our strip-till system, we've been gradually backing off. We do block checks in each field so we can keep track of that and we soil test every three years, so we can also track it that way, but we've been backing off on P and K. When I get done with, as I finished harvesting fields, I got my yield information, sent it off to an independent consultant that I work with and then he figures out, "Okay, here's what removal is."

Then we started out, like I say, we started out, we were putting on 100% removal, but then we've gradually been backing it off. Had I been able to strip-till last fall, we would've been down to about 65% of what that removal called for. Some of it is because we're putting it in a band and strip-till. Some of it is because we've been, on most of our farms, we've been doing cover crops for quite a few years and any unused nutrients in that soil get taken up in that cover crop, gets sequestered in that cover crop, so we're keeping it in the growing sphere of your cash crop.

Just trying to save those nutrients and keep them in-field rather than having runoff or getting into the soil water and things like that. That's allowed us to continue to back off. Like I say, we do block checks in every field, so we run a myriad of rates trying to see, measure how low we can go versus do we need to be higher, things like that. We're always checking that and we do the same thing on nitrogen as well. When I make my last side-dress pass, as I said earlier, that's when we do our variable rate, taking into account our management zones in the field. A lot of our management zones are based off of historic yield, so you always have areas of a field that yield higher every year, regardless of what the environment is, and you always have areas that yield lower and then you have an average.

We run 60% of the field is an average, 20% is high yield, 20% is low yield, and we just, all of our applications based on those. Then with nitrogen this year, we had a bunch of block trials on one farm and we've done that for a couple years, so we put them in different yield environments within that field. This year, I think the rates were, we ended up at 100 pounds total up to 190 pounds total and applied per acre. Like I say, we always try to check and make sure what we're doing is right or obviously try to challenge ourselves to the lower side, not only from a nutrient stewardship standpoint, but it's more money in my pocket if I can still get 250 bushel of corn on 20 pounds less applied fertilizers.

Noah Newman:

Let's burn a quick time out to share a message from Yetter Farm Equipment. Yetter Farm Equipment has been providing farmers with residue management, fertilizer placement and seed-bed preparation solutions since 1930. Today, Yetter is your answer for success in the face of ever-changing production agriculture challenges. Yetter offers a full lineup of planter attachments designed to perform in varying planting conditions, multiple options for precision fertilizer placement, strip-till units and stalk rollers for your combine. Yetter products maximize your inputs, save you time and deliver return on your investment. Visit them at, that's Now back to the podcast.

Brian Corkill:

2015, then we added a high clearance sprayer. Also, part of putting on nitrogen early, mid-season, late season, spraying all our own acres, terminating our cover crops so we didn't have to rely on a retailer and the possibility of miscommunication and fields not getting sprayed. I've seen that happen and that can turn into a disaster real quick. We can be a lot more timely. Also, like I said, we've gone away from anhydrous. For a lot of years, I mean we were like everybody else, we were putting on 100% of our nitrogen on in the fall and then it got to the point where we're using N-Serve. We're doing everything we think we need to do. We had tried side-dressing with Coulter bars and stuff like that. Some years, we found a decent response out of that. Some years, I'd put on, say, 50 pounds with a Coulter bar in a dry year, but it didn't yield any better.

I'd leave checks. I had 50 pounds more nitrogen and I got four bushel acre or more yield. That doesn't make a lot of sense, so we do now. We use it. We side-dress right along the row, right over the root system. I think we get better utilization of nitrogen that way just from placement. You're not as reliant on rain. If you get some good dews several days in a row, that helps get it soaked into the root profile. I've been pretty sold on that scenario. It's worked really well for us. I like to have the ability to make that late side-dress application at that V12 to V16 range where I can take into account, this year, had we not started getting rain at the end of June, I was to the point where I've got 110, 120 pounds of nitrogen on. I might not put on any more. If it's not going to rain, there's no sense in putting it out there.

Then it did start raining, so we did end up making a subsequent application, but we did cut that back just because of the growing season up to that point, but it gives us that flexibility to change how we, based on the fluidity of the growing season. Also in that last pass, I always throw in potassium thiosulfate, so getting a little more potassium right ahead of pollination, and sulfur as well. Sulfur is a lot like nitrogen. I'm sure many of you know that. It can leach out of the soil pretty quick and we're not getting the benefit of getting atmospheric sulfur anymore, so sulfur's been become another, technically it's a micronutrient, but it's become a little more important that you put on some form of sulfur, whether it's in the fall with your dry fertilizer or sometime during the growing season, whether it's with KTS or ATS or some form of sulfur usually shows a pretty good benefit.

As I stated earlier, for 2024, I think I'm going to go away from my Infrero starter and focus more on just putting on nitrogen with my planter based on what I saw this year. Not completely based on this year, but this year, it showed up a lot more. I've always wanted to move to putting on nitrogen with my planter so I wasn't broadcasting it. I was putting it right next to where the corn plants were. This is just a picture of, this would've been my second pass, applying, on this field, I was doing nitrogen, potassium and sulfur. Usually, I do that at my last pass, but I did have this one field where it showed some stress from potassium, so I did apply it at that time. It looks tremendously better than that today. Another thing that I have done in the past and I need to be better about that is taking, and I would suggest anybody that's raising cover crops take some biomass samples in your field.

What I do, I think this is from the lab I work with, this is their protocol. You can take a hoop or you can make a square, whether it's 12 inches square or the first year, I did 24-inch square. It was six-foot-tall cereal rye. I don't recommend doing that. That's a lot of stuff to ship in the mail and the lab didn't really care for having that much in a package, but going out. Whether it's 12-inch or 18-inch or whatever it is, taking, you go down. You throw it down in your cover crop and then everything inside that square or circle, you clip it off. You've got to clip it off an inch above the ground so you don't have necessarily the effect of soil splash up on the biomass. You clip off the biomass, put it in a paper bag and send it off to a lab.

You need to check with your lab that you work with because I know some labs I talked to, I asked about doing a biomass sample and they said, "Oh, do you mean a tissue sample?" I'm like, "No, I don't want a tissue sample. I want to sample what is in that biomass." I found a lab that did do that. I think the first time I did it was in 2017. I don't know. You probably can't see that very well. It was interesting. They give you back a report. Based on whatever size of the area that you pulled the biomass sample from, then they give you a report back. The sample area was 576 square inches. Then it gives you the total dry weight of that. Then it will give you a report of the actual biomass, the pounds per acre. In this case I did it. It was six-foot-tall cereal rye and some winter barley that wasn't as tall and it was on ground that I had put anhydrous on in the fall.

This would've been in 2017. In that, it equated out to about, it was a little over 13,000 pounds of biomass per acre. It had 275 pounds of nitrogen per acre sequestered in that biomass, which is a tremendous amount. That field had only had 100 pounds put on in the fall, so it was also sequestering any mineralized nitrogen that was available. That's sequestered in that biomass. At some point as that breaks down, that becomes available to the subsequent growing crop and it might not all happen in the same growing season, but it's going to be there in future seasons. If you keep growing cover crops every year, then you're going to have a certain amount more mineralized nitrogen available than you might normally have if you weren't growing a cover crop. Pounds of organic carbon, carbon to nitrogen ratio, in this case, it was 19 to one. It has how much sulfur, phosphorus, potassium. There's 78 pounds of phosphorus and 400 pounds of potassium that was sequestered in that biomass.

Then it has some other micronutrients. Those are all nutrients that a certain percentage of those, had there not been a cover crop growing, I don't know what that percentage would be, a certain percentage of that would be lost to either volatilization or getting into the groundwater. Keeping it in the field, that's what we look to try to do. I think I've mentioned that a little bit. I do employ an independent consultant to help manage all the data and make prescriptions and recommendations. I think when we first hired him, he wasn't really bought in on the whole cover crops and all that stuff, but the longer that we've worked together, he's seen the value in some of the things that we've seen the value in. He's been really good to work with. I was a field cooperator for Soil Health Partnership while they were doing their thing. He would go to meetings with me and he really now has bought in.

Like I said, as I said, we're a field cooperator. We've continued the strip trial that we had set up under them. In the three years, I think, since they ceased to exist, we've continued that strip trial on, so we have cover crop versus no cover crop and trying to continue to gather the data from that for not only our own information, but I try to share that information. Now, I think we're working a little bit with Illinois Soybean Association on some of that stuff so they can get that data and get that passed out as well. Just talking strictly about seeding cover crops and strip-till, there's lots of different methods. Most of ours has been broadcast. We did start out drilling. We had a 15-foot drill. We did that the first year and it became very evident that if we're going to grow this over all our acres, that wasn't going to work because you just can't cover ground with it.

It just takes too long and it takes a lot more labor, so the second year, we had it mixed with our retailer. They mixed it with the fertilizer and spread it that way and that was okay, but it was streaky. Then we started a CSP or we had a CSP contract, a couple farms that we hadn't been cover-cropping at that point. That was probably in about 2013, 2014. Basically, they told us what we needed to use and when it had to be applied by. I think it had to be applied by the 15th of September. In my geography, we don't have a lot of crop harvested by the 15th of September, so we flew on for five years, three years with a plane. The last two years, we used a helicopter. The helicopter was better than the plane. They could be a little more accurate as far as field edges and things like that and it might be differences in pilots or whatever, but the guy that flew it on with a helicopter did a lot better.

We didn't have all the streaks and stuff that we maybe had with a plane. A couple of years, it didn't work very well. If you're going to fly it on, my recommendation would be, hopefully you have some soil moisture and you want to do it right ahead of a rain event that you're reasonably expectant is going to amount to something because what we ran into in years when it failed, either it was dry before we flew it on, then we might get a small rain, but there's enough moisture it'll germinate, but not enough moisture to sustain it. Where it works out best is if you have a little soil moisture ahead of time and then get a decent rain afterwards, then it can be very successful. Plus, it allows you to get it on prior to harvest, which is a big thing, especially if you want to come back and strip-till it, like I said earlier, you want to have some growth, so you can end up with a nice clean strip.

Like I talked about, I know guys that'll go out and seed it with their planters, with a 15-inch planter, interseeding. I did try that a few years ago. Going out into, corn was about knee-high and I didn't have the equipment to do it, so we ended up mixing it with urea and top-dressing the corn with the urea and the cover crop. It had been really dry up to that point, but we got a really, really decent rain afterwards and we had good growth out of that. That being said, it ended up being the last field that we harvested. When I pulled it, and it was corn on corn, and when I pulled in there to strip-till because it was the last field we harvested, I couldn't get through the residue, so we ended up having to run vertical tillage over it and that significantly impacted the growing cover crop.

A lot of it, we had really good radish establishment. We had decent annual rye. We ran radishes, annual rye grass and then a medium red clover and then there was another type of clover. We had good, radishes were great. The annual rye grass is pretty decent. The clover was decent but a little bit spotty, but then after we ran the vertical tillage over it, in the following spring, we didn't hardly have anything left there. I think it has its place. It can be difficult in strip-till from all that residue and growing cover crop and things like that just to get the flow of that stuff through the strip-till bar, but it is an opportunity. We make the strip in the fall and we basically, we don't do anything to it after that and then I just plant into it in the spring.

I know I've got a neighbor that they do some stuff with cover crops and they'll strip-till in the fall and they actually, they'll run a strip freshener in the spring, which would help alleviate the issue. If you do have cover crop coming up in the strip, that strip freshener will take that out. In my case, like everybody, labor's an issue. My dad is phasing out of the operation, so it's basically just me. We farm about 1200 acres, so I run the sprayer. I run the strip-till bar. I run the planter. I do all that, so time is limited for me, and trying to find somebody that you trust to do some of those operations, because you can't just throw some guy in the seat that can run a tractor. There's a lot that goes into that.

That has been an issue. I would consider the idea of running a strip freshener in the spring. A lot of times, it hasn't been too big of an issue, but it can be. Like I said, timing, timing matters, timing, timing, timing. We don't always have control over that, geography. Depending on, guys in southern Illinois, they can get their cover crop on early and they maybe can't necessarily, especially if you're strip-tilling with anhydrous or something like that, you've got to wait a little bit longer before you can get started, so your cover crop gets up and going really good and you can strip into it and it works really good. Up in my neck of the woods, we don't get the same amount of growth in the fall. It can be a challenge from that standpoint. Like I said, you can end up with cover crop growing in your strip and I don't necessarily like that, but sometimes we have to deal with that.

One thing I also have done in the past, if I've had the time, and I have a field that has a good cover crop stand, I'll go in and maybe put on, not terminate the cover crop, but go in and put on a residual. A lot of times, I'll stunt the cover crop back a little bit, but if I have time, I have streamer nozzles that I bought. They're a three-hole streamer nozzle and then I can turn them at an angle so that I can get a pattern of, say, eight to ten inches wide and then I drop my nitrogen over the top of the row. I've done that. There again, I've got to have the time to do that. Don't always have the time to do that, because it's just another pass across the field. That has worked really well.

We have everything's on RTK. Our sprayer isn't, but I can tell, I know from my passes, that I'm obviously over the strips and I'm not driving on the strip. I'm actually applying the nitrogen over the strip. Like I say, again, that takes more time. That's another pass. I don't always have that luxury. That's part of why I'm also looking at putting the nitrogen on my planter so I can do that, be a lot more efficient with my nitrogen rather than broadcasting it over the ground. Then one big thing when guys ask me about some of the stuff we do, sure, it's easy. I've talked to guys that say, I tried cover crop or I tried no-till and I tried it one year and it didn't work. I'm not doing that again. A lot of those things don't work in the first year. Quite honestly, your soil's become used to your whatever system that is that you're using at the time.

If you make a system change, it's going to take a period of three, four or five years where you start to get back or better than you were previously. Some guys will say, cover crops are just an expense. I don't want to have that extra expense. I've always viewed it as an investment in my soil. Some of the stuff I've talked about, we're starting to see. It took, like I say, about four or five years, but then we start seeing a return from that because I've been able to back off more on fertilizer, I believe, than I would've if I'd had just been strip-till some years. This year was a pretty good example of it. With soybeans, I've got about half my soybean acres. I just spot-sprayed a few places. I made one application back in May.

We grow Enlist soybeans. I made an application of Enlist and Roundup to terminate the cover crop. Didn't put on a residual at that time because it hadn't rained and there was no rain in the forecast, so I didn't feel like putting my residual out there knowing it was going to be gone within a week or 10 days. We didn't put on any residual. Had decent cover crop mat from the cover crop. I had two fields that I ended up having to come back and spray the whole field because we had a lot of waterhemp here a few weeks ago that were just starting to come up, but then I had, basically half my acres were basically spray around the outside, because you've got weeds that migrate in from the fence line and then just a few places out in the field that I know where we've had weeds in the past, and most of the field didn't get any second application.

It's been a huge benefit for weed control as well. Even in some years where maybe we still have to spray the whole field, I think it does a good job of, our biggest problem is waterhemp. It does a really nice job. Cereal rye does a really, really nice job of suppressing waterhemp, so I don't think we have the same pressure that we might've had, had we not had that cover crop based on what my experience of what it was prior to cover crop and after cover crop. Like I say, you have to be willing to manage the whole system and you have to be fluid. You have to be flexible because things change. Mother Nature is always going to win, but you have to try to deal with it as best you can, and one variable can have an effect on everything else you do.

Like I say, this spring, I strip-tilled this spring. That was probably the worst thing I could have done this year. That had an effect. I had even emergence, but the fact that I dried out that soil profile for, I think I was running about eight inches deep, dried out that soil profile. There wasn't a lot of moisture for the emerging corn to latch onto, so that had an effect on everything else. Other thing is, don't be afraid to seek out someone to mentor or give you advice. That's why I think a lot of guys I talk to or see that had issues, they didn't reach out to someone that had been doing it. Maybe it could help alleviate some mistakes if you had talked to someone to help you through that because it can be a drastic management change from going from conventional tillage to no-till or maybe going from conventional tillage to no-till cover crops at the same time.

Those are major system changes. Having someone that you can feel like you can talk to, to ask questions, is important. At the end of the day, agree with it or not. I don't agree with everything, but current regulatory climate and all the money that's being spent on climate smart farming and conservation practices and everything else, I don't think that's going to backtrack any. I think that's just going to become a way of life and continue further down the track, so I think it is important to, before we're mandated to do things, to start experimenting and working with some of these different systems and trying to get it figured out before you're mandated to do it. You've got the carbon markets and things like that, those can provide some opportunity for funding to make practice changes so you're not necessarily shouldering the whole expense of making those practice changes.

You can try them out and you're going to be compensated for those. In my case, because I've been doing it for so long, I can't participate in a lot of those things, but I do try to take advantage of, like I say, I've taken advantage of CSP. This would be my third contract in a row. We've been able to implement a lot of conservation practice. In my current one, we're doing some stuff with some waterways, doing a cover crop enhancement, looking at different mixes. We're going to have to go back to flying it on, but that is what it is and we can manage for that. We're putting in a windbreak. Previous CSP contract, we put in a bioreactor. Funding in the newer contracts isn't nearly as good for projects like that, but it's a way of exploring and implementing different conservation practices and not have to foot the bill completely yourself.

Pretty much everything, I've seen benefits out of all of it. I've been involved a lot in some nutrient loss reduction strategy stuff and that's where I got interested in putting in a bioreactor. Bioreactors in and of themselves aren't going to solve the problem because it just takes too many of them, but it is interesting. We have automatic water samplers on inlet and outlet, and we're involved in a water quality research partnership. There's someone from the University of Illinois that comes up once a month and pulls water samples. Then I get a report every quarter about how many nutrients or how much nitrates were going in, how many were coming out, and just seeing the differences and learning about how many nitrates a bioreactor can take out of your tile water, basically. We put it on a tile outlet.

That's been really interesting to see and it actually works really, really well, but it just takes too many of them to move that needle. Some of these other practices, cover crops and things like that, they're doing the same thing. It's going to take a myriad of different things to stave off the mandated regulations and show that we are trying to move the needle.

Noah Newman:

That'll do it for this edition of the Strip-Till Farmer Podcast. Thanks to Brian Corkill for his presentation there. Thanks to you for tuning in and thanks to our sponsor, Yetter Farm Equipment, for making this podcast series possible. Until next time, for all things strip-till, head to I'm Noah Newman, thanks for listening.