In talking with farmers, a common goal they have in developing a successful strip-till system is to apply fertilizer more accurately. Many growers note benefits of this goal, including faster emergence and healthier plant stands with a targeted application beneath the strip.
Banding fertilizer to better feed the crop was one of the reasons Lake Mills, Iowa, farmer Ben Pederson moved from conventional tillage to strip-till 3 years ago. Variable-rate fertilizer applications for corn in fall and spring with his eight-row SoilWarrior strip-till rig have helped reduce fertilizer costs by as much as 30%.
But he’s still not completely sold on the effectiveness of variable-rate technology. “I do think it has merit,” he says, “but I’m struggling with how variable this variable-rate technology is.”
Pederson says in some cases he’s had a 100-pound difference in prescribed application within a 20-foot swath. “I can’t tell myself with any confidence that in such a small distance that the soil is actually different,” he says. “I do like to variable-rate, but with a grain of salt.”
I’ve talked with other farmers who share Pederson’s guarded optimism with variable-rate fertilizer application, and adoption is still relatively small among strip-tillers.
According to results of our first-ever Strip-Till Practices Benchmark Study published in the August issue of No-Tiller Farmer’s Conservation Tillage Guide, about one-third of strip-tillers use variable-rate fertilizer application.
But the results of the study also suggest a yield benefit for those utilizing the technology. According to the study, strip-tillers who used variable-rate application for fertility averaged 190.5 bushels per acre, compared to 179.8 for those who don’t.
With the recent trend toward lower commodity prices and higher input costs, it will be interesting to see if the potential of double-digit yield increases drives adoption of variable-rate fertilizing practices for strip-tillers in the future.
What success or frustration have you had with variable-rate fertilization? Share you story with me at (262) 782-4480, ext. 441, or send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.