During a recent trip through Illinois, I had the chance to visit with veteran strip-tiller Alan Madison, who plans to try strip-tilling soybeans this spring for the first time.

Although only a test plot, Madison says he is curious to find out if it’s worth the effort of building 30-inch strips for his soybeans in the fall, or to continue no-tilling them in 15- and 30-inch rows as he’s done for years.

With diseases like white mold popping up in drilled soybeans, farmers are always looking for a better way to preserve and potentially boost soybean yields.

“It seems like we’ve had a hard time getting those soybean yields to increase like what we’ve seen with corn,” Madison says. “They’ve been good the last few years, but a lot of times they’re no better than what we had 20 years ago.”

So is strip-till the answer? Perhaps — but according to the 5th Annual No-Till Farmer No-Till Practices Survey, the number of soybean acres being strip-tilled shrunk in the last year.

In 2012, survey respondents reported strip-tilling soybeans on an average of 309.2 acres. In this year’s survey, the number dropped to 211 acres. Interestingly, respondents indicated that the per-bushel yields of strip-tilled soybeans in 2011 and 2012 were nearly identical at 49.1 and 49.6, respectively.

So what prompted the drop? It could be farmers didn’t get the paybacks they were looking for and opted to increase their acres of strip-tilled corn. According to the survey, the average number of strip-tilled corn acres jumped from 505.7 acres in 2012 to 575.6 this year.

Although the 2012 drought took its toll on corn yields in strip-tilled corn acres — 145.6 bushels-per-acre last year, compared to 173.1 bushels per acre in 2011 — strip-tilled corn is a safer bet for farmers than soybeans.

Overall, a slightly higher percentage of survey respondents in 2013 (18%) say they strip-tilled, compared to 17% last year. And there was an increase in the percentage of respondents who said they run a strip-till rig — 15.7% in 2013, compared to 14% last year.

Strip-till practices may be slowly increasing, but as the farmer in Illinois told me, “There’s no silver bullet answer for strip-tilled soybeans. If there was, everyone would be doing it.”

What successes or challenges have you had with strip-tilling soybeans? E-mail me at jzemlicka@lesspub.com or call me at (262) 782-4480, ext. 441 to share your experience.