Forecasts are always fun — if not entirely accurate — and provide an opportunity to predict the future. In the case of strip-till, I’ve anecdotally heard for years that there are pockets of growth.
Evidence comes out of farm visits where I’ll hear about someone being the local ambassador for the practice, promoting the benefits and converting neighbors. These are encouraging stories not only to hear, but to share because they reinforce the commitment strip-tillers make, along with the challenges they face and rewards they earn.
But can we quantify real growth of strip-till acres? About a decade ago, our sister publication, No-Till Farmer, reported on the estimated total of strip-till acres in the U.S. based on survey data and state research conducted by local agronomists.
The 2007 study revealed about 3.6 million acres of corn were actively strip-tilled that year, or roughly 19% of the nation’s no-till corn acreage at the time. Not surprising, and consistent with our more recent strip-till benchmark study data, the highest concentration of strip-till acres were in the Corn Belt (1.7 million).
Nebraska had the highest number of strip-tilled corn acres (600,000) followed by Iowa (530,000) and Illinois (480,000) — again not surprising.
Interestingly, a survey of 2008 National No-Tillage Conference attendees revealed that 36% expected strip-till acres to increase 1-10% by 2010, with another 16% forecasting growth of 11-20% and another 9% predicting growth of more than 20%. Some 39% expected no change in strip-till acreage.
It’s safe to say, strip-till acres have grown since those decade-old projections, but it’s difficult to predict the anticipated increase in strip-tilled acres since neither the government or anyone else collects data indicating how many acres are farmed with this system today.
However, talking recently with strip-till experts, I’ve asked them to try and quantify current acreage in a strip-till system and also offer a forecast for what we can expect in the future.
The best estimate I’ve heard, based on field research and personal experience of those I’ve chatted with, is 8 million acres strip-tilled in 2017 and a projection of 11.7 million by 2030.
Sound reasonable? Researchers offered some ammunition for their forecast. First, they cited growing momentum within academic institutions — and especially the larger ag universities — to recognize and invest in research related to strip-till.
It’s going to be gradual process, but with increasing public emphasis on nutrient management and fertilizer runoff, researchers are taking notice. Some suggest this will translate to an investment in solutions related to strip-till.
Another reason is that there are areas where strip-till is still in its infancy. Talking with one expert, he cites west of the Missouri River and north to the Canadian border as regions ripe for a 3-5% annual increase in strip-till adoption.
We’ll be doing our best to track the progress being made and continue to share those success stories and lessons learned as both an entry point into the practice, as well as keeping farmers on the pathway to prolonged strip-till productivity.