I always relish the opportunity to hit the open road and visit with a variety of strip-tillers in a relatively short time span. But inevitably, there’s a certain amount of “windshield time” to fill, and I’ll often tune in local radio stations to see where regional music tastes lie.

Heading through central Illinois a few weeks ago, I came across the Kenny Roger’s classic, ‘The Gambler’ and didn’t think much of it at the time. But after talking with Emden, Ill., strip-tiller J.T. Hayes, I couldn’t help but recall the catchy refrain from that tune.

I’m betting it’s running through your minds now, too.

One of the interesting points that Hayes made during our conversation was that after nearly a quarter-century of strip-tilling, he doesn’t like to gamble with his operation. That’s not to say he isn’t looking to improve his strip-till philosophy — as you’ll read in this edition’s feature story — but Hayes has a strong sense of where he does and doesn’t want to go, based on experience and instinct.

For example, he’s always steered clear of spring strip-till, in part because he doesn’t want to risk planting into soil that’s potentially too dry. He’s found a reliable system to getting his strips made at the right time in the fall, applying anhydrous and then sidedressing the necessary nutrients post-emergence.

“I’ve never felt comfortable with spring strip-till,” he says. “You have to get some really nice rains to get that mound to go down, get it settled. Some guys are lucky and get away with doing it. I’m not a lucky guy.”

Luck certainly plays a role in any farming practice, but taking the time to do your homework and make deliberate, well-reasoned decisions — i.e., knowing “when to hold ’em, when to fold ’em” — is always advisable to building a successful strip-till system.

What gambles — calculated or not — have you taken in your strip-till operation? Share your experiences and contact me at 262-782-4480 ext. 441 or at jzemlicka@lesspub.com.