Driving through Wisconsin at the end of September, all was still relatively quiet in the cornfields that I passed. It’s been well documented that excessive spring moisture delayed planting, and a dry summer stretch bumped harvest back several weeks for many Midwestern farmers.
This is certainly true in parts of Wisconsin, but the idle combines allowed me to visit with a couple of strip-tillers in the area and they had an optimistic view of this year’s crop, despite the inconsistent climate.
“It’s been a real rollercoaster this year,” says Nick Viney, of Evansville, Wis. “But things are looking pretty good and we’re anxious to get out there and see what we end up with.”
He and Josh Trautman strip-till about 800 acres of corn and an early-contract cornfield harvested in mid-September yielded nearly 200 bushels per acre.
But the first-year strip-tillers admit the prospect of increasing yields is only part of the reason they moved away from conventional tillage and no-tilled methods for their corn. They also want to improve soil structure and water infiltration.
A rainy spring put their fall-built strips to the test, and Viney says he was pleasantly surprised that there was minimal erosion. Only a small area of one strip succumbed to washout after the area received more than 13 inches of rain in a short period of time.
That’s an acceptable casualty, Viney says, especially given how bad it could have been.
Johnson Creek, Wis., strip-tiller Steve Duwe also understands the anxiety that comes with heavy rains and the havoc they can wreak on fields. In 2008, extreme flooding pushed harvest back and an early winter prevented him from doing any fall tillage.
“When we were in our chisel-plow system, I wasn’t real happy with what we saw on some of our rolling ground with all the erosion we had after extreme rains,” Duwe says. “I made the move to strip-till in 2009 and a big push to make that change was to try and reduce that erosion in extreme-weather years.”
We’ll be taking an in-depth look at Duwe’s strip-till operation in an upcoming edition of Strip-Till Strategies, but in the meantime, he’s seen marked improvement with water infiltration and less nutrient runoff since moving to strip-till.
While farmers don’t have any control over when and how much rain falls season to season, strip-tillers at least have a little ammunition against Mother Nature to keep their soil intact.
Has strip-till helped you minimize erosion on your farm? Share your experience with me by calling (262) 782-4480, ext. 441, or send me an e-mail a firstname.lastname@example.org.