The second annual Strip-Till Farmer Hall of Fame class includes Bill Preller of Congerville, Ill., Jodi DeJong-Hughes of Willmar, Minn., and David Legvold of Northfield, Minn. The trio will be honored at the 2024 National Strip-Tillage Conference Aug. 8-9 in Madison, Wis., for their pivotal role in moving the strip-till practice forward and their overall impact on the industry. Legvold, DeJong-Hughes and Preller join 2023 Hall of Fame inductees Jim Kinsella, Rich Follmer and Tony Vyn.

Original Innovator

David Legvold, whose farm is known as a living laboratory, was the first recipient of the Strip-Till Innovator Award in 2019. He’s worked with hundreds of students at local colleges on various research trials over several decades and recalls vividly his introduction to strip-till in the late 1970s.

“After moving to the farm in 1976, I had this grand vision of being an organic farmer,” Legvold says. “Organic production was presented as the only way to go because it was so good for the environment. I bought into that. But after farming organically for 2 years, which requires doing a lot of tillage, I was seeing some soil degradation. I began to look for something better.

“I got a phone call from a colleague, and he said, ‘You’ve got to come and see this thing.’ It was a strip-till machine. When I heard strip-till — you could have said, ‘Vegetables on Mars,’ and it would have meant the same to me. I went to this place just south of Northfield. He was a hog farmer, a grain farmer and a metal magician. He’d built this thing that would till only a small strip throughout the field.

“I got a phone call from a colleague who said, ‘You’ve got to come and see this thing.’ It was a strip-till machine…”

“He farmed in some pretty hilly areas, so he needed to till this way to avoid erosion. I loved what it did, creating tilled zones that were deep, yet retaining most of the crop residue. He didn’t even have to broadcast fertilizer and work it in because the fertilizer was placed by the delivery system built into the machine. I thought, ‘Wow. Somebody finally hit the dinner plate.’”

A few years later, Mark Bauer, the inventor of the Environmental Tillage Systems (ETS) SoilWarrior, invited Legvold out for a first look at the beta model.

“I began to try out the strip-till machine and really liked it,” Legvold says. “I thought it made good sense. I went in whole-hog. People ask me, ‘Gosh, how can you do that?’ I say to them, ‘Well, it’s kind of like courting your wife. Eventually, she had to decide, or you had to decide to commit.’”

The ‘Soil Lady’

Legvold, like so many other strip-tillers over the years, crossed paths and struck up a friendship with fellow Strip-Till Hall of Fame class member Jodi DeJong-Hughes.

Kids sometimes call her the “dirt lady,” a job description the longtime University of Minnesota Extension educator considers not quite accurate.

“I’m not the ‘dirt lady’ — I’m the ‘soil lady,’” she says.

DeJong-Hughes has been educating farmers about soil for over 25 years, building a reputation as one of strip-till’s top authorities. She helps farmers improve soil health by minimizing soil compaction and improving tillage systems as a regional educator for the University of Minnesota Extension based in west-central Minnesota.

“I began working with strip-till around 2000,” DeJong-Hughes says. “Initially, I was focused on finding a solution for soil erosion. Shortly after, I started focusing on strip-till, working with farmers in Minnesota and conducting research on their farms.”

Coulters, Shanks & Knives

Strip-till toolbars have three categories of ground-engaging equipment: knives, coulters and shanks. Preller says knives are most prevalent in areas where strip-till evolved from converted anhydrous ammonia applicators and are more typical in central and northern Corn Belt fields. He says coulters are more prevalent in areas with rocky fields, where knives and shanks pull rocks to the surface.

“No-tillers converting to strip-till and wanting less soil disturbance, and growers who are looking for just a seedbed and not deep-placement or soil fracture generally look at coulter-equipped machines,” he says. “Also, growers looking for higher field speeds tend to prefer coulters because they can cover more acres quickly by not running deeply to improve soil tilth or place fertilizer.”

Shanks, the tool Preller calls the original dedicated strip-till approach, are typically the tool of preference for deeper nutrient banding.

DeJong-Hughes has dedicated her career to sharing knowledge with others, delivering presentations to up to 7,000 people annually, including growers in Minnesota, North Dakota, the Corn Belt and across Canada, with additional international speaking invitations in Ukraine and Australia.

She also organizes the Soil Management Summit, attended by 170-300 people annually for the past 19 years, in addition to multiple workshops and strip-till field days across western and southern Minnesota.

Corn Guru

AGuru Machinery founder and president Bill Preller is on a mission to help farmers be successful with strip-till in their operations — a mission he chose to accept long before the public launch of his strip-till equipment manufacturing company in 2020.

“The ‘guru’ name started as a joke from a customer of mine during my crop consulting days,” Preller says. “I’m originally an agronomist by training, not an equipment guy. He tagged me as the corn guru. The guru part stuck. We want to be the gurus of strip-till.”

Preller cut his teeth as an independent crop consultant for about 15 years before joining the research and development team at DMI and eventually Case IH where he became a leader in equipment sales and marketing. Now with AGuru, Preller teaches growers across the country about the benefits and intricacies of strip-till, visiting their farms and learning about the unique challenges they face.

“There is an environmental soil health benefit with strip-till because it introduces oxygen into soils in a sustainable, responsible way,” Preller says. “The economic impact comes from the more efficient use of nutrients, labor, etc. There’s the agronomic impact of gaining 10-20 bushels per acre. Strip-till is a win-win-win for all three. Which one is going to have the biggest impact in the end? It has to succeed economically, right? That’s the way the world works. This system works economically, and it also helps environmentally and with labor issues.”