As fall harvest winds down in some areas, many strip-tillers will soon be back in the field building berms and fertilizing for next spring’s crop.

Results of our first-ever Strip-Till Practices Benchmark Study, published earlier this year, revealed that of the 88.8% of strip-tillers applying nitrogen in the strip, 47.6% do so in the fall, compared to 41.2% in spring.

But it’s possible that those percentages could dramatically change in the coming years, as states push to limit fall application of nitrogen.

Some strip-tillers I’ve spoken with who’ve moved from fall to spring strip-till say part of the reason they switched was to stay ahead of any potential fertilizer regulations.

“In the future, we’re going to have to figure out application of nitrogen without having the option of doing it in the fall,” says Illinois strip-tiller Dan Sanderson. “We’re anticipating that change is coming and need to be prepared.”

Sanderson and his son, Trent, started strip-tilling corn, primarily in the fall, 7 years ago but have gradually shifted to spring — in part to decrease the risk of nitrogen runoff.

In spring, the Sandersons use their 12-row John Deere 2510S strip-till bar to apply about 140 units of 32% nitrogen into the strip, and then apply 3½ to 5 gallons per acre of starter fertilizer, in-furrow, with their Case IH 1200 planter.

Trent says he prefers spring strip-till because fertilizer application is less risky than fall application, especially in their cool, damp northern Illinois climate.

“We’re concerned with how much nitrogen we’re applying in that fall strip, and depending on the conditions, we could be losing most of it,” he says. “With a spring application, there’s a smaller window for losing that expensing input.”

Like other states, the Illinois Dept. of Agriculture offers guidelines for fall application of nitrogen, but Dan says he wants to be proactive — rather than reactive — to any government restrictions coming in the future.

“When the day comes that we’re not allowed to apply nitrogen in the fall, I want to have already addressed that issue,” he says.

What modifications have you made to your nitrogen application program in strip-till? Share your story with me at (262) 782-4480, ext. 441, or send me an e-mail at