It’s no secret that the size and strength of high-horsepower tractors continues to grow. But more horsepower doesn’t necessarily translate to increased efficiency.

This is something Clare, Ill., strip-tiller Trent Sanderson considered when he decided to switch this year from a 12-row John Deere shank strip-till rig to an 8-row Dawn Pluribus coulter machine for spring strip-till.

Sanderson says he got to a point where it became hard to justify the annual operational costs of using their 530-horsepower John Deere 9630 tractor for strip-tilling on their 2,000-acre corn, soybean and wheat operation.

“The per-horsepower cost for newer tractors these days is upwards of $1,000,” Sanderson says. “We’re about return on investment and that’s tougher to come because horsepower is an issue with any shank-type strip-till we’ve used.”

While Sanderson likes the strip-building performance of a shank setup, he is looking for more flexibility with fertilizer application and the ability to strip-till at a higher speed, using less horsepower.

With the 12-row unit, Sanderson typically could only strip-till about 6 miles per hour, in part because they were using a mole knife to fracture soil 5-7 inches deep. He hopes to increase that speed to closer to 10 mph pulling the 8-row unit with their 200-horsepower Deere 8300 tractor, and experiment with placement of fertilizer on either side of the berm.

“The row units are set up so I can spread out that hot zone because we sometimes apply as much as 140 units per acre of 32% nitrogen in the strip in spring,” Sanderson says. “We don’t want to boil it, but we’re all liquid and think this might be the next step for us.”

Since moving to strip-till from conventional-tillage practices in 2007, Sanderson and his father, Dan, have see more consistent corn yields near 200 bushels per acre. But they don’t want equipment inefficiencies to limit their productivity.

“For our operation, there’s no justification for spending $250,000 on a tractor,” Sanderson says. “We’re more interested in paying for assets that are going to go up in value.”

What equipment is providing the most return on investment in your strip-till operation? Share your story with me at (262) 782-4480, ext. 441, or send me an e-mail at jzemlicka@lesspub.com.