As successful strip-tillers know, the benefits of the practice come from being able to evolve and adapt the system to suit their operation. In other words, it takes patience to see the payoff.
But that patience can also be tried on more than one occasion. Rush City, Minn., strip-tiller Lance Petersen has endured his share of challenges — both climate and soil-type related — farming in the east-central part of the state.
Strip-till is an anomaly in his area, but 5 years ago, Petersen wanted to find a more sustainable alternative to conventional tillage on his 750-acre corn-on-corn operation.
The transition has not been without its bumps, and 2014 proved to be a particularly difficult year. Heavy early spring rains forced Petersen to prevent-plant two-thirds of his corn crop.
“It was probably the worst conditions I’ve ever planted into,” he says. “I think at harvest, the country average was somewhere around 100 bushels per acre or lower.”
Despite the disappointing yields, Petersen saw an opportunity to turn a short-term negative into a long-term positive. On his prevent- plant acres, Petersen experimented with different mixes of cover crops, including clover, radish, dwarf Essex rape seed, wheat and barley.
He let the cover crop stay green through the fall and then strip-tilled into them with his Dawn Pluribus unit this past spring.
“We wanted to test the economics of cover crops in strip-till and basically asked our seed retailer if we could try anything he had left in his shed,” Petersen says. “The fields that got a cover crop last year are averaging 10-15 bushels per acre better than the continuous corn we only strip-tilled.”
Overall, 2015 has proven to be a more profitable and productive year for Petersen — much of which he attributes to accommodating growing conditions — but he also acknowledges his willingness to experiment within his strip-till system to overcome or plan for future obstacles.
“We took the training wheels off our strip-till system,” he says. “I didn’t know our rocky timber soils could produce 190 bushels per acre, but to be 30-40 bushels above the local average this year let’s us know me must be doing something right.”
How did strip-till practices benefit your corn yields this year? Share your perspective with me at (262) 777-2441, or send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.