I cold called Elora, Tenn., strip-tiller Eric Reed the other day to gauge his interest in speaking at the 2023 National Strip-Tillage Conference. He quickly answered the phone, greeted me like family even though it was our first time talking to each other and immediately opened up about the unique challenges of farming on the Tennessee-Alabama border.

“The dirt we have is the kind of dirt they build racetracks on,” he says. “It’s as red as can be.” 

But the jovial, first-generation farmer still finds a way to achieve high yields with a limited budget. Reed won the 2019 National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) Alabama Corn Yield Contest and shattered the state’s dryland corn yield record in the process. His daughter, Madison, won the Tennessee contest the same year.

If strip-till works on Reed’s farm, it will probably work on yours. And he’s passionate about proving it.

“I want to teach the farmer who thinks they can’t make strip-till work because of financials, lack of equipment or poor soils that they can do this,” he says.

Reed is excited to share more of his story and record-breaking tips for maximizing yields on poor soils at the National Strip-Tillage Conference, Aug. 2-4 in Bloomington, Ill.

About 345 miles southeast of Reed’s farm, you’ll find another high-yielding success story in the form of young strip-tiller Caleb Traugh. The Blakely, Ga., farmer and crop consultant placed second in the state’s 2021 NCGA Corn Yield Contest with just over 270 bushels per acre in the strip-till, minimum-till, mulch-till, ridge-till irrigated class — a remarkable accomplishment considering he’s still in his 20s and didn’t grow up on a farm.

“Strip-till has a lot to do with our success,” Traugh says. “We built a complete fertility package to go with our strip-till system, and that helped us take things to the next level. We’re now using a homogenized fertilizer containing nitrogen, potassium, phosphorous, calcium, magnesium, sulfur, boron, manganese and zinc.”

High yields aren’t the only thing Traugh has in common with Reed. He’s also an open book when it comes to sharing lessons learned from research plots on his farm. Traugh’s getting ready to unleash more knowledge at his 4th annual field day this summer.

“It’s something that I really look forward to hosting,” he says. “I try not to be like the growers who learn something and just keep it to themselves — that’s not me. I want to share it and use it to help others. During our field day last year, we compared 41 different corn hybrids side by side and also analyzed results from strip-till fertilizer rate studies.”

Perhaps Traugh is so eager to give back because others did the same for him when strip-till was a foreign concept in the southwest corner of Georgia. He picked up many strategies from podcast interviews and seasoned strip-tillers willing to share their playbooks.

I’m quickly learning this is a common theme, and if the stories on the following pages are any indication, I’ll bet many of you reading this right now have your own strip-till “Yoda” who’s played a part in your own success stories.