This time of year, I look forward visiting farms to get a recap of harvest and also catch a glimpse of some fresh fall strips. Although there were still plenty of combines harvesting corn ahead of an expected early mid-November cold snap in western Wisconsin and central Minnesota, I had a chance to traverse the newly strip-tilled fields of Tom Muller.
Muller strip-tills about 1,300 acres of corn near Windom, Minn., and was eager to showcase the impact 20 years of the practice has had on his fields. Muller built his first strip-till rig in 1994, but now has his acres strip-tilled by the local co-op with a 24-row Blu-Jet rig by Thurston Mfg.
The soybean field we walked had been strip-tilled only a few days earlier with the silty clam loam soil raised about 2 to 3 inches above the stubble and remaining corn residue from 2 years ago.
While Muller likes what he sees on the surface, he is even more impressed by what is going on underneath the soil.
“Lots of holes from earthworms and old roots,” he says, grabbing a chunk of soil from the strip. As we check other areas of the field, the results are the same, with several wormholes visible in most of the soil we touch.
Earthworm activity is one of the primary benefits of strip-till for Muller, because his area is susceptible to torrential rains after long dry spells, which can wash away nutrients and topsoil.
“Usually, it’s a lack of moisture that is our problem, but when we get the heavy rains in a short time, we don’t see runoff of fertilizer or moisture,” he says. “We’re basically trying to drought-proof our fields.”
Letting worms work the ground is a natural way to improve water infiltration and preserve soil structure, two factors, which have contributed to nearly a 30-bushel per acre improvement in corn yields during the last two decades for Muller. By July, Muller says most of the residue between his strips will be gone, as the worms do their job of pulling it beneath the soil surface.
“They do a natural job of burying that residue, which you don’t get with full width tillage,” he says. “We have some big night crawlers out there, so it gets a little scary in summer.”
What benefits are you seeing from earthworm activity in your strip-till operation? Share you story with me at (262) 782-4480, ext. 441, or send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.