For South Dakota farmer Todd Boesen, a commitment to growing corn as a cash crop prompted a move to strip-till, and a focused approach to nutrient application.

When taking up a farm practice, Todd Boesen likes to do his homework and crunch the numbers.

Five years ago, he wanted to transition his family’s corn operation in Kimball, S.D., to minimum-till and did some research to find an economical way to do so.

For years, Boesen conventionally-tilled corn feed for the farm’s cattle operation, but eventually he got to a point where he could expand corn production as a cash crop.

“We began with looking at strip-till primarily for fertilizer placement, so I wanted to do some experimentation to find out what was going to work for us,” Boesen says. “We had no fertility program whatsoever 7 years ago, other than applying 10-34-0 and spreading manure.”

Starting From Scratch

To start off, Boesen purchased a homemade 8-row strip-till unit, based off a DMI strip-till bar, from an Iowa farmer for $3,500. The shank machine came equipped with Yetter cutting coulters and floating trash wheels, which was a good setup for building spring strips.

Boesen still raises 600 head of cattle, which graze cornfields after harvest.

“Spring is the most effective time for us to build strips, rather than fall, because the cows are running on the field from fall until February,” he says.

The first year, Boesen strip-tilled 250 acres and used guidance from his John Deere GreenStar GPS system to set up 25-acre test plots, with strips 5½ inches deep and 8 inches wide.

At harvest, he began collecting yield data and incorporated soil sampling to start building his fertility program.

Years of tillage took their toll on the organic-matter levels on Boesen’s farm, which he described as “as low as you could go.”

Based on his soil samples, Boesen applied about 355 pounds of nitrogen per acre on his corn test plots — a blend of 210 pounds of urea, 75 pounds of monoammonium phosphate (MAP), 50 pounds of ammonium sulfate (AMS) and 20 pounds of potash. He then sidedressed another 50 to 75 pounds of urea per acre, based on need.

“I was doing a broadcast rate of the same amount of fertilizer next to the strip-tilled acres,” Boesen says. “I figured adding any fertilizer to my soil was going to make a difference, but I was hoping the strip-tilled acres would perform better.”

FERTILITY GROWTH. Since going to strip-till, Todd Boesen has built his fertility program almost from scratch. Placing fertilizer in spring strips, compared to broadcast application on conventionally tilled fields, showed a yield advantage of 15 to 30 bushels. Boosting Yields

Boesen didn’t come away disappointed by the results. When compared to the conventionally tilled corn acres, he’s seen a yield advantage of anywhere from 15 to 30 bushels an acre with strip-till.

He’s also seen improvement in plant structure, and their ability to retain nutrients, on the strip-tilled ground. Boesen experimented with applying an additional 20 pounds per acre of potash in some of his strips in spring.

“Even though the soil tests didn’t call for it, I’ve had a lot better stalk strength applying those extra 20 pounds of potassium,” he says. “In the drought conditions we saw last year, those stalks held on a lot longer, were bigger and had able to maintain more moisture, compared to areas where I had broadcast potash. That sold me on putting those extra 20 pounds down in the strips.”

Planning Ahead

Three-and-a-half years ago, Boesen switched to an 8 row Dawn Pluribus unit. He was worried about developing air pockets and cavitations in his heavier soils, so he moved to a coulter machine.

This spring, Boesen upgraded to a Harvest International toolbar with 16 Dawn Pluribus row units with a mounted Montag fertilizer cart. The strip-till unit matches up with his 16-row John Deere 1720 planter, equipped with pneumatic down pressure, variable-rate drive motors for seeding, and Keeton seed firmers.

UPGRADING EQUIPMENT. Strip-tiller Todd Boesen started with an eight-row custom rig, but last year moved to an International Harvest bar with 16-row Dawn Pluribus units and a mounted Montag fertilizer cart.

Boesen may also add a packing wheel on the strip-till rig to firm the ground ahead of planting.

“I like the setup I have, but the only downfall is I have to chase my strip-till rig with the planter otherwise those strips dry out. I can’t strip one week and then plant the next, unless I get rain,” Boesen says. “So I’m toying with using an old Case IH planter packing wheel and replacing the two back gauge wheels with a roller to buy me some more time before planting.”

Boesen got the idea after doing some custom strip-till work this spring. The customer told Boesen that he planned to plant a week after the strips were built, but by the time he got into the field, the strips had dried out.

“In his no-till fields, corn emerged faster, so it got me thinking about what I could do to avoid that problem — especially if I don’t have the personnel to run the planter right after building the strips,” he says.

QUICK PLANTING. One challenge Todd Boesen faces with spring strip-till is having to follow with the planter to keep the strips from drying out. His John Deere 1720 is equipped with pneumatic down pressure, variable-rate drive motors for seeding, and Keeton seed firmers.

Boesen now strip-tills 1,200 acres of corn and only 50 acres are still conventionally-tilled, in part to continue his comparisons and further fine-tune his fertility program.

He’s looking to cut back on his sidedress nitrogen application, and this year will try strip-tilling about 250 acres of sunflowers.

The plan is to apply about 150 pounds of urea, 60 pounds of monoammonium sulfate (MAP), 30 pounds of ammonium sulfate (AMS) and 15 pounds of potash in the strips.

“I’ve had such success with corn that I’m anxious to see what happens with the sunflowers,” Boesen says. “So far, I’ve been pleased with how I’ve been able to improve my application methods. When you don’t have big knockout budget to put down a full broadcast rate, getting the best bang for your buck out of your fertility program is important.”