From 1991 until 1996, our publishing company produced a newsletter called Ridge-Till Hotline. It was a similar product to what we have been doing over the past 4 decades with No-Till Farmer.
While the response to this paid- subscription newsletter was favorable, by the mid-1990s we didn’t feel ridge-till acres would continue growing. So we halted publication, much to the regret of many die-hard ridge-tillers.
For years, ridge-tillers had complained that a few no-tillers always seemed to be bad-mouthing their system. The biggest complaint was the fact that ridge-tillers relied on cultivation for weed control, while no-tillers preferred chemical control.
No-tillers also saw ridge-till requiring more labor, two needed cultivations taking place when hay should be harvested, and not being an effective tillage system for farmers looking to expand their acreages.
After strip-till got its start in the late 1980s and early 1990s, ridge-tillers began to wonder why no-tillers were so quick to accept many of the ideas they hadn’t liked about ridge-tilling.
Here are a few long-term ridge-till ideas that seem to have become the mainstays of successful strip-tilling operations.
Ridge-tillers ran the tires of their tractors, planters and combines in the same paths in the field year after year, reducing compaction concerns. Tractors and combines were often equipped with add-on axles to line up similar field paths for tires.
Mechanical guidance devices were used in some instances to keep the planter row units centered on the ridge.
Then GPS came along and made controlling traffic and precise fertilizer and seed placement in the center of strip-tilled berms much easier.
Ridge-tillers banded some nutrients next to the seed in the ridge for maximum usage by corn and soybean plants.
As strip-tillers started building berms, they banded phosphorus, potassium and a few micronutrients directly in the berm. This led to more effective use of fall-applied nutrients.
Building Berms (Or Ridges)
Strip-tillers rely on berms to help heavy soils dry out and warm up faster for earlier spring planting. The berms also allow growers to band and place nutrients where they will earn the biggest return.
On the other hand, ridge-tillers relied on one or two late spring cultivations to build ridges where they would plant corn or soybeans the following year.
Deep Banding Fertilizer
Like what ridge-tillers did with their ridges, many strip-tillers deep band nutrients into their berms to reduce costly nutrient runoff and made nutrients more readily available to growing plants.
Ridge-tillers for years had seen the benefits of moving heavy corn residue away from next year’s planting area. When building berms, strip-tillers move heavy residue away from the planting area.
In summary, there’s no doubt that ridge-till served as one of the foundations for today’s highly popular strip-till systems.
Yet veteran ridge-tillers still remember when no-tillers didn’t have much respect for many of the ideas that have turned into some of the keys to success with strip-till.