Anyone who believes baking or cooking is easy has never learned from failure, or is just naturally gifted in the culinary arts. As a well-intentioned amateur in the kitchen, I frequently solicit candidly constructive criticism on the creations that come out of my oven.
It’s that feedback which I value most to improve on second attempts or future experiments, and also evolve the ingredients to increase the odds of more consistent success. Sometimes it’s a subtle addition or subtraction that can be the missing ingredient.
I like to think of strip-tillers in this context — creative adaptors who are receptive to change and always looking to improve their recipe for success. For Iowa strip-tiller Wayne Fredericks that included data-driven analysis to calculate the economic return improving soil health can have on yield, farmland value and water use efficiency.
Or the adoption of variable-rate fertilizing technology to reducing pop-up application rates by almost 80% as New York strip-tiller Donn Branton did on his twin-row strip-tilled corn acres.
Strip-till pioneer Rich Follmer realized early on that where a recipe for success didn’t exist, he could engineer it himself as he did when he designed an innovative piece of equipment to till a narrow strip of soil to plant into.
But the keys to achieving satisfying results are practice, patience and intuition, along with knowing what your cornerstone ingredients are to drive repeatable results on your operation.
Looking at preliminary responses to the 2021 Strip-Till Practices Benchmark Study, (look for detailed coverage in the Summer issue) strip-tillers cited a variety of tools and techniques as their most valuable ingredients to a successful recipe — from the necessity of RTK to ensure repeatability to timing berm building immediately following harvest or preceding planting.
One respondent notes that his best tool is the friendship he’s established with other strip-tillers, to reflect on their annual successes and challenges. “We all farm in different areas and use different tools so it’s nice hearing about the good and bad they have in a year as well telling them of mine so we all learn and can maybe try different things.”
For all of the foundational elements of the practice, strip-till is an inherently personal system, developed and refined though experience. As I’ve heard in the hallways and roundtable conversations at the National Strip-Tillage Conference, attendees openly share their secrets to success, with the caveat that what works for them, may not work for others.
But even an anecdote can be a catalyst for inspiration. The same is true in the kitchen. Every chef is going to have a different cookbook — from novices like myself to the uniquely talented. It’s the passion and commitment to always improve that drives eventual success, however it is measured.
So keep creating, innovating and experimenting on your farm to develop the best recipe for strip-till success. It’s a satisfying feeling when your combination of ingredients produces results you can be proud of.