Strip-tilling instead of using conventional tillage can save farmers money, according to a recent study funded by the Corn Marketing Program of Michigan (CMPM).

A Michigan study found strip-tilling provided a small yield advantage, and solid economic advantage over conventional tillage. (Photo: MFA Inc.)

Four farms were selected for the study. Soil samples were taken from each site as needed, as well as the collection of stand counts, field observations and yield results. The data from three of the four farms was used for the final results.

The first location in Burlington, Mich., compared conventional tillage to strip-tillage on two fields. Both fields saw better field stands in the conventional tilled corn, as opposed to the strip-tilled corn. A 24-row planter was used with a 16-row strip-till bar.

When run on the row, the populations were similar to conventional tilled corn, 29,000 to 30,000 seeds. When the planter was off the strip, populations dropped to 23,000 seeds. The conventional corn averaged 178 and 179 bushels per acre, with populations of 28,000 and 31,500 per acre. The strip-tilled corn averaged 183 and 184.6 bushels per acre, with populations of 26,000 and 28,500 per acre.

The second location in Allen, Mich., compared strip-till to no-till on three fields. The strip-tilled corn averaged 162.4, 155.3 and 155.2 bushels per acre with populations of 26,300, 27,800 and 26,600, respectively. The no-tilled corn averaged 150.6, 151.6 and 147.5 bushels per acre, with seed populations of 26,300, 22,800 and 27,500 per acre, respectively.

The lower yields can partially be attributed to weeds and other problems.

“There were several areas within the no-till corn that had wet holes and severe dandelions,” says Bill Moyer, a crop consultant with LFB Solutions, Inc., who helped with the study.

The third location in Homer, Mich., also compared strip-till to no-till. On sandy soil, the strip-tilled corn averaged 162.1 bushels per acre with a population of 32,600 per acre, while the no-tilled corn averaged 167.3 bushels per acre, with a population of 32,250 plants per acre.

On heavier soil, the strip-tilled corn averaged 192.7 bushels per acre, with a population of 31,000, while the no-tilled corn averaged 187.5 bushels per acre, with a population of 31,600 per acre.

The fourth location was in Union City, Mich. and ran into adverse planting conditions for the strip-tilled corn.

“The strips were in heavy clay soils, which received an excessive amount of rain prior to planting, leading to severe crusting,” says Moyer. “As a result, the seed trench was unable to be closed when planting on the strips. The conventional tillage done just before planting gave a better stand as the cooperator was planting into loose dirt.”

As a result of the poor planting conditions, yield data from this location was omitted from the final results.

“Based on the results we received, it appears that strip-tillage provides a small yield advantage over conventional tillage or no-tillage,” Moyer says. “However, strip-till only has an economic advantage when compared with conventional-till, garnering $33 more an acre. Strip-till resulted in a decrease of $6.55 per acre when compared to no-till corn.

“While strip-till does result in additional income for some farmers who switch from conventional tillage, it also comes with some associated negatives. The shank used on the strip-till equipment brought many rocks out from under the surface. It would be worth investigating strip-till rigs that do not use the shank, and, as a result, do not disturb as many rocks.”