A couple things jump out when looking at Strip-Till Farmer’s 11th annual Strip-Till Operational Benchmark Study demographics. 60% of the 215 growers who participated in the study are 55 years or older. But 10% said 2023 was their first year strip-tilling, and a little over 26% said they’ve only been strip-tilling 2-4 years.

Janesville, Wis., strip-tiller Leo Johnson falls under this umbrella. After a 44-year run as co-owner and president of Case IH dealer Johnson Tractor in Wisconsin and Illinois, Johnson retired to pursue his lifelong dream of farming with his wife, Sue. 

Armed with good suppliers, neighbors and intentions, Johnson decided strip-till was the way to go. He bought a Kuhn Krause Gladiator in early 2023 and planned to make strips later that year in the fall on about half of his 1,000 acres. There was only one problem.

“A new strip-till toolbar was sitting in my shed, and I had no idea how to use it,” Johnson says. 

Although he learned a lot about equipment from his years in the dealer world, Johnson was still a novice at almost everything else farming related, especially strip-till. He had tons of questions heading into the summer of 2023. More than likely, the same ones many of you once had or maybe still have today. 

“A new toolbar was sitting in my shed, and I had no idea how to use it…”

What nutrients do I use in the tank? How do I manage my strips? Do I need a strip freshener? How do I incorporate cover crops in the strips? How wide should my strips be? Do I go over this year’s bean rows or offset? How do I best set strips to maintain integrity for the spring? 

As fall quickly approached, Johnson needed answers. He found them at the 2023 National Strip-Tillage Conference in Bloomington, Ill., in August.  

“Every one of my questions was covered at the conference,” Johnson says. “That’s exactly why I went.” 

He left Bloomington with enough ammo for his maiden strip-till voyage. Johnson feels good about the strips he made in the fall. He’s about to find out if those good feelings translate to good results when he plants corn into the strips for the first time this spring. 

Johnson will share the good, the bad and the ugly of his first year strip-tilling during a classroom presentation at the 2024 National Strip-Tillage Conference, Aug. 8 in Madison, Wis. Click here to see the complete program

I’m looking forward to learning more about Johnson’s journey — and if planting into the strips during year 1 was a success — at the conference this summer. Everyone must start somewhere, and unless you’re a genius or blessed with extremely good luck, chances are the start is far from perfect — look no further than my first few articles. This reminds me of a motivational sign that my mom gave me to hang in the bathroom of my first apartment — “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” What did you learn from the first steps of your journey that shaped the way you strip-till today? Let me know by emailing me at Nnewman@LessiterMedia.com!