Recent field days and ag shows have clearly shown a significant increase in strip-tillage interest among Minnesota growers, maintains Warren Formo. In fact the executive director of the Minnesota Agricultural Resource Center goes so far to predict strip-till could become the predominant tillage system in Minnesota by 2026.
After a decade of steady growth, Formo says the state’s strip-till acreage continues to grow by more than 5% per year. This increase in acreage is due to favorable farmer experiences in recent years with strip-till, equipment improvements and the adoption of precision ag tools to make the system more efficient.
Due to its popularity, manufacturers of strip-till equipment have told Formo that it’s difficult to keep up with the demand for new machines. Those growers who have looked into strip-till recognize that one of the primary limitations is that these machines can be expensive, adds Formo. Even so, he says many farmers are penciling the required machinery investment out over enough acres and years to make it work.
Knowing that USDA does not collect strip-till acreage data, I asked Formo to elaborate on his predictions. He told me his primary “unofficial” tracking is done with Minnesota collected data from the Ag Census Data. This national data is collected every 5 years so it is not as messy as trying to track year-to-year improvements.
Formo says his predominate tillage prediction for strip-till in Minnesota 3 years from now is based on several factors:
1 The strip-tillage acreage in Minnesota increased by more than 30% from 2012 to 2017 in the Ag Census. (Update from the 2022 Ag Census won’t be available until February 2024)
2 Equipment manufacturers are seeing steady growth and increased farmer interest in strip-till.
3 Formo says his conversations with farmers are changing in regard to strip-till. The same farmers who 10 years ago told him that strip-till would never work on their soils now talk proudly about their transition to strip-tillage.
4 Another big driver is that many of the earlier strip-till innovators seemed to be medium-acreage farmers.
“There seemed to be a perception that large-acreage farmers would not be able to make the switch because of concerns about getting the field work done on time and delivering fertilizer to the strip-till bars,” says Formo. “I now know of several Minnesota farms of 5,000-10,000 acres getting into strip-till, and there is even an operation of more than 20,000 acres moving to strip-till.”
Some Guess-Work Involved
Formo admits the tillage definitions are challenging when it comes to making his future strip-till acreage predictions.
“I took some liberties with the exclusion of strip-till from the reduced-tillage category because early on that is where many farmers were reporting it,” he says. “They do not see strip-tillage as being the same as no-till.
“While NRCS includes strip-till acreage numbers in the no-till acreage, many farmers do not,” he adds. “Farmers would argue that we need a fourth category for strip-till, something like true no-till, strip-till, reduced full-width tillage (likely similar to the 30% residue concept) and intensive tillage (full-width and low residue).”
While it would probably be more accurate to go to tillage practice categories based solely on residue, Formo believes it would be very confusing for farmers. And on a negative note, he says there are efforts underway in Minnesota to get strip-till delisted as a preferred environmental practice, which he finds puzzling.