Having just returned from our inaugural National Strip-Tillage Conference in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, I had a calm 4-hour drive back home to gather my thoughts after a whirlwind 2-day event.

Kicking off with a hands-on soil workshop with Jill Clapperton, principal scientist at Rhizoterra Inc., attendees got an up-close evaluation of root samples they brought from their farms. It was interesting to listen to the diversity of perspectives shared about how strip-tillers from South Dakota, Illinois or Ohio view their soil and seek to improve it.

Using one sample as an example of premium ground, Clapperton told the crowd gathered around her, “Good soil structure looks like ground coffee. If it’s clumped up, we’ve got some work to do.”

Nearly 50 presentations, classrooms and roundtable discussions followed her workshop, and after sitting in on many of them, it was clear that many strip-tillers have the same goal of higher yields and improving soil health, but they often take different paths to get there.

There seemed to be nearly as many different fertility strategies as there was attendees at the event — which drew more than 400 people. But everyone shared a commitment to strip-till, whether it was relative newcomers to the practice or veterans.

I heard several more attendees comment that “strip-till is a mindset,” and while there’s no shortcut or “magic bullet” to succeeding, going the extra mile by getting their hands dirty by investigating what’s beneath the soil, or incorporating precision technology to be more efficient farm managers, are definitely steps in the right direction.

This was a clear takeaway from this year’s National Strip-Tillage Conference and one which I imagine will be echoed at next year’s event and beyond. Perhaps longtime Iowa strip-tiller Jeff Reints said it best during his presentation before to a packed room: “Strip-till is not idiot proof,” he said. “You have to manage it.”

For those who joined us in Cedar Rapids, share your feedback of the event with me at (262) 782-4480, ext. 441, or send me an e-mail at jzemlicka@lesspub.com. And for those who couldn’t make it this year, we hope to see you in 2015!