It was a banner year for strip-till in 2023. Strip-tillers smashed world records for both corn and soybean yields.

Not too long after Alex Harrell strip-tilled and cover cropped his way to a 206-bushel soybean yield in Smithville, Ga., David Hula followed suit with a 623-bushel corn yield — 8 bushels higher than his previous record — in Charles City, Va., landing on top of the strip-till irrigated NCGA category.

Chasing Godzilla-sized yields isn’t necessarily always the name of the game, but what can we learn from a record-breaker’s approach to growing a bin-busting crop? Look no further than the fingers on your hand for a reminder of the 5 keys to success, Hula says. 

Thumbs Up — Attitude. Keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to adjust. A thumbs up serves as a reminder to keep a positive attitude throughout the growing season, a tip Hula learned during a presentation from Francis Childs, the late high-yield corn pioneer from Iowa. 

“I’m like, ‘What in the world?’” Hula recalls. “You don’t need a positive attitude to raise corn. But I know what Francis meant — you have to be willing to change. At the end of the day, you’ve got to get out there and evaluate what you’ve done.”

Index Finger — Control What You Can Control. “This is the finger my mom pointed to me when I was doing something wrong,” Hula says. “It’s also the finger that you use to specifically point to what you either had control over and did correctly, or if you did something incorrectly.” 

According to Hula, strip-tillers have control over 3 main areas: soil, fertility and pest management.

Middle Finger — Mechanical. Resist the urge to give this one to your crop when it’s not cooperating. The middle finger represents the mechanical component to an operation, Hula says, adding that after the planter has gone through the field, most of your corn yield has already been determined.

“Make sure you get that even emergence and get some nutrients out there, and if you can get that picket-row fence stand, that’s even better,” Hula says. 

Ring Finger — Relationship with Corn Variety. “Picking the right corn variety is like finding your spouse,” Hula says. “It’s emotionally driven and, if done right, can be rewarding. If done wrong, it can be very costly.”

He adds that once the planter leaves the field, it can’t be fixed, so if a strip-tiller picks the wrong hybrid, they might be in trouble. 

Pinky Finger — Management. The smallest, but maybe the most important finger is the one that’s vital to your strip-till success, Hula says.

“I’m task oriented,” he says. “I develop a plan. I execute it the best I can, and I’m going to adjust it. Then at the end of the year, I evaluate it. I collect data and try to analyze it as well as I can to improve for next year.”

A high five is owed to all of you reading this for your hard work and dedication in 2023 — a challenging year that included drought conditions across a good chunk of the U.S. And during these winter months, all of us here at Strip-Till Farmer give you a hand for your commitment to improving your operation and maximizing your crop’s potential in 2024.