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Strip-till Offers Best of No-Till and Cultivation

Friday, December 1, 2000
filed under: Equipment

Strip-till Offers Best of No-Till and Cultivation

Practice can help sunflower and other row crops get off to a faster start

Strip-till promises the best of both no-till and cultivation, allowing savings in time, moisture and fuel use, and helping row crops get off to a faster start. For some producers, it could bring greater flexibility to plant confection sunflower and later-maturing hybrids of sunflower and other crops.

“Think of it (strip-till) as a hybrid between no-till and ridge-till, in which growers can capitalize on the cost reduction benefits of conservation tillage,” says Troy Sayler, seed systems manager for Monsanto Seed, Bismarck, ND.

The strip tiller is used to place fertilizer and create a furrow for seeding. Knives on the strip tiller (most commonly set at a 30” spacing) prepare the seedbed and place fertilizer (dry or liquid, depending on the setup of a particular unit) simultaneously. The knives used in combination with coulters cut through residue while the untilled area of the row (about two-thirds of the row width) remains covered with residue, to benefit moisture retention and microbial activity that builds organic matter.

Once the strip-till operation is completed in the fall (when the practice is recommended) or first thing in the spring, then corn, soybeans, or sunflower can be seeded into the strips with a row crop planter.

Sayler cites a number of benefits with strip-till:

 Soil in the narrow tilled area warms faster, and may be 5 to 8 degrees warmer than the rest of the row.

 Fertilizer can be placed “2x2,” with seed 2” below the soil and fertilizer 2” below the seed.

 The aerated strips will encourage earlier planting as compared to no-till if excessive moisture is a problem.

 Less fuel use as opposed to conventional tillage.

 The promise of greater yields. Sayler points to University of Illinois research on strip-till in 1996 and 1997, which indicated a two-year average increase in yield of 35 bu./acre for strip-till over no-till, and 3 bu./acre over conventional.

Ag Systems based in Hutchinson, MN, manufactures the strip tillers. Company vice president Paul Lenz says strip till is more commonplace in growing regions further south, and used with success in tobacco and cotton. The concept has been working its way north, however, partly because farms are getting larger—and producers are looking for ways to cover more acreage more efficiently.

Each strip tiller (which Lenz refers to officially as the “Thru-Flow strip-till deep bander”) is custom finished depending on the growing area, he notes, fitted with different blades or knives depending on user needs. While the company makes 8 and 12-row units, Lenz’ company has the capacity to make a 16-row unit, he says.

Ted Chizek, a distributor of the strip tillers based in Casselton, ND, says cost of a new unit can range between $18,000 and $28,000, depending on unit size and attachments. Lease and renting options are also available.

Sayler’s company leased an 8-row unit for its retailers to provide for producer customers to use this past fall and next spring. Rental cost to producers may vary, but it’s about $3/acre. Providing the unit partly promotes a good agronomic practice. But it could also mean good business— strip-till could help Monsanto sell Roundup Ready seed, and Roundup for pre-plant burndown treatments.

The tractor requirement to pull a strip tiller is a minimum of 160 horsepower with 3 hydraulic remotes, and capable of a fourth hose to relieve back pressure from the air delivery fan. This hose runs back to the tractor hydraulic reservoir, similar to most air seeding systems.

Byron Richard hoped snow would hold off long enough for him to try strip-tilling this fall, to save on seedbed preparation time next spring. That didn’t happen, but he’s going to try it anyway next spring on his farm near Belfield, ND, where he grows oil sunflower, durum, spring wheat, canola, crambe, and corn.

Richard, who also has a seed and herbicide business, figures strip-till may benefit his corn, and give him better odds at trying confection sunflower.

“If we can get in the field sooner and get quicker emergence, maybe we can plant a later-maturing hybrid and get better yield, or plant confection sunflower, and if you want to go with that, you need more growing season,” he says. In his growing area where dryness can hamper good confection yields, getting a confection sunflower crop off to a faster start would also mean a quicker canopy for better moisture retention, and thus greater potential for higher quality and higher test weight.

Richard solid seeds sunflower, so he’ll need to go back to rows in fields where he tries strip-tilling next spring. “We’ll have to see a yield increase to justify the row crop planting,” he says. – Tracy Sayler

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