It was refreshing to get on the road and visit several strip-tillers on their farms last week, engaging in educational conversation — from a safe distance, of course. 

Southeastern Minnesota is always an interesting area to explore the evolution and advancement of strip-till. My recent trip was no different, getting the opportunity to learn about the dollars-and-sense approach local strip-tillers have taken to improve economic returns and not necessarily boost yields.

“Farmers need to change mentalities. When first started farming, I was told I need big yields to be profitable. I needed 250 bushels per acre,” says New Prague, Minn., strip-tiller Greg Entinger. “I’ve applied product in the field for that yield goal, but those fields couldn’t generate 250-bushel corn yields.”

Entinger took over the family’s 900-acre corn-and-soybean operation full-time in 2013 after his father passed away. He learned some harsh economic lessons trying to chase high-end corn yields those first few years. 

A change in mindset, paired with investigating alternatives to full-width tillage — which had always been a part of the family’s farming philosophy — led Entinger to an epiphany.

“If I can make money growing 170 bushels an acre of corn, instead of losing money raising 220 or 250 bushels, I’m going to do that,” he says. 

In 2015, Entinger made a calculated gamble and strip-tilled his entire operation, planting corn and soybeans the following spring. In his words, “he bet the farm” on the practice and acknowledges some sleepless nights that first winter, wondering if his gamble would pay off. 

Favorable conditions the following spring and some of the most consistent emergence convinced Entinger he made the right call. And the economic advantages followed. He runs his 12-row Environmental Tillage Systems SoilWarrior strip-till rig about 9 mph through the field at 30-feet wide, vs. when he used to disc rip the field going about 4 mph, 12 feet wide.

“Ripping was about 2 gallons of diesel per acre with my 300-horsepower tractor, whereas with strip-till I use about a half-gallon of fuel per acre,” Entinger says. “Then I was also field cultivating, which was about 1½-2 gallons per acre. At $3 per gallon, and $6-$8 per acre, I’m now spending about $1.50 per acre with strip-till.”

Cutting costs without sacrificing profitability has been a necessary mantra for Entinger and he’s moved into better economic management of nutrient application. He’s started writing his own phosphorus and potassium prescriptions, moving away from the flat-rate blend of 200 pounds per acre he would band with the strip-till pass.

“In the prescriptions I just wrote for fall, thinking about soil health in those fields, I’m going to save more than 20,000 pounds of applied product, because I’m at a point where I can dial back applications because it’s not going to be worth the cost of adding a few more bushels,” he says. “I’d rather put that money in my pocket or invest it somewhere else on my farm.”