Custom strip-tilling can offer an opportunity for experienced strip-tillers to generate additional income and broaden the network of sustainable farming practices.

“A lot of farmers don’t want to spend the $100,000 to buy their own strip-till unit and would rather hire someone else so they can try strip-till for a year or two,” says Buckingham, Iowa, strip-tiller and custom operator Adam Nechanicky.

But custom work can also be an entry point for farmers looking to test-run a strip-till system. And one important consideration is whether to have fertilizer applied or simply have strips made with a custom strip-till pass.  

This decision could have a significant impact on the cost of having a field or two custom strip-tilled. Looking at the results of Iowa State University’s 2016 Custom Rate Survey, there was a distinct difference in the per-acre price tag for custom application of dry and liquid fertilizer in strip-till vs. other methods.

According to the survey of more than 180 Iowa farmers, the average cost for custom application of dry fertilizer with a strip-till rig was $17.15 per acre, compared to $4.90 per acre for dry bulk application. Custom liquid application with a knife in strip-till was $15.10 per acre compared to $6.65 per acre for spraying.

The survey results were based on rates expected to be charged or paid, including fuel, labor and machinery costs for the tractor and implement. On the surface (no pun intended), custom broadcast application of fertilizer in strip-till is certainly cheaper than banding, but is it really more economical?

Most strip-tillers will swear by the benefits of banding nutrients below the surface as a more efficient method of conserving and delivering nutrients to plants. Shell Rock, Iowa, strip-tillers Jeff and Clay Reints once did a comparative study of broadcast vs. banded applications of potassium, phosphorus and sulfur on their farm.

While not custom applied, their results reinforced the yield and efficiency benefits of banded applications.

“We know we can reduce application rates with strip-till — and in talking with agronomist Brian Hefty, he told me that broadcast rates have to be 50% higher than banded application to achieve the same effect on crops,” Jeff says. “In our example, what the root mass is seeing with strip-till is the equivalent of broadcasting 1,010 pounds per acre of fertilizer.

“If you call up your local co-op and order 1,010 pounds per acre, you will be getting a Christmas card from them because that would be one giant order.”

What fertilizer application methods are most efficient in your strip-till operation? Share your insights with me at (262) 777-2441, or send me an email at