If you spend any time online these days, it’s hard to avoid the avalanche of comments, memes or images proclaiming that 2020 is a lost year, even though we’re only a little more than halfway through the calendar.
But talking with strip-tillers, they’ve found comfort in the familiarity of seeing those emerging crops popping up though the soil or launching the next field trial on their operation.
With spring planting in the rearview mirror, the seasonal chaos provided a welcome relief — as strange as that may sound. Strip-tiller Brandon Hunt, who manages Hunt Farms, an 11,000-acre operation near Herndon, Ky., perhaps summed it up best, saying that he was looking forward to “tractor therapy” this spring.
When I caught up with him in late April via Zoom, he was in the cab just starting to plant and the joy on his face was evident as he was rolling through the field. Hunt is currently conducting trials with cover crops, which have become an increasingly important part of the operation.
Seeding cereal rye with a Case IH 500T drill in September after harvesting double-cropped soybeans, Hunt then likes to strip-till ahead of planting corn with their 16-row Case IH 2150, Case IH 2140 and Kinze 3660 planters.
“Sometimes, our cover crop is not as good as I want it to be behind the double-cropped soybeans, just because we’re so late getting into the field. If it gets cold early, the cover crop doesn’t have a whole lot of time to get up and thrive,” he says. “So whenever I plant cover crops for the strip-till, we’re using a steerable hitch with our 40-foot seeder where I’ll plant two 7½-inch rows in a 30-foot guess row.
“If we’ve got two 30-inch rows of corn, I’ve got two 7½-inch rows of cover just in the middle, not where my row’s going to be. That way, whenever we come back and strip, we’re not just ripping cover crop up and wasting it.”
I came across the same contented expressions when I visited Megan and Eric Wallendal this spring. When I arrived at Alsum Farms in Grand Marsh, Wis., Megan was roller-crimping a terminated cereal rye cover crop and Eric was following a few rows behind building strips with their 12-row Orthman 1tRIPr.
The Wallendals relish the opportunity to experiment and it was clear they appreciated the opportunity to both be in the cabs of equipment working in their “laboratory” and willing to share some of their lessons learned in that field.
“We’re sitting in a pumpkin field now with rye that we strip-tilled that was up to our shoulders,” Eric says. “We’ve always strip-tilled it two or three times, when it’s a couple inches tall, then maybe boot-high and then right after we crimp.”
The year the Wallendals tried shaving off a strip-till pass after crimping, they ended up with an excess of biomass to the point that strip-tilling at 3 mph, they had to stop every 50 feet to take rye off the coulters and depth gauges. Megan notes that they took the same approach the following year, but experienced the same results.
But in the moment, she explained the failed experiment with a smile on her face and happily jumped back into the cab of the roller-crimper to finish the final 20 acres in the field and enjoy a little more therapeutic time in the cab.