What is Strip Till?
Strip tillage is a precision tillage practice where only the band of soil in which the seed will be planted is cultivated and is commonly used for row-crops such as corn, cotton, and soybeans. Working only this strip of soil instead of the entire field speeds up the tillage operation, reduces labor requirement, allows precise fertilizer placement in the root growing zone and helps manage moisture.
How does a Strip-Till Machine work?
The strip-tillage toolbar is equipped with row units for preparing the strip. The row units will be on a row spacing that matches the crop to be planted. A good row unit will combine 5 essential elements:
- A method for clearing crop residue from the strip ensuring it will not impede seed-soil contact at planting. Often a coulter is combined with floating row cleaners for best residue management.
- A working element to loosen the soil in the strip. This may be a shank or coulters (often preferred for shallower tillage <6”). Whatever the design of the working element, it must be capable of breaking out all the soil in the strip and removing low levels of soil compaction. The width of the strip should be sufficient for the planter gauge wheels to run on to maximize planting depth consistency, smooth operation for high-speed planters, and twin-row planter application.
- A method for creating a raised berm over the strip. In fall, this raised surface allows the strip to weather without becoming a depression, and in spring the berm will warm up and dry out faster than the area between the strips allowing planting to begin more quickly.
- A method for applying anhydrous, liquid, or dry fertilizer in the strip. Row units will usually be able to place 2 types of fertilizer simultaneously in one pass across the field.
- A conditioning attachment which will size clods and provide a surface suitable for planting.
Benefits / Advantages of Strip-Till Farming?
Strip-till systems allow the operator to reduce the number of tillage operations to one pass thereby reducing the number of man-hours required for seedbed preparation. Additionally, strip-till conserves moisture because the entire field is not tilled, so evaporative losses are reduced. Conversely, in wet conditions the untilled bands of soil between strips help reduce run-off thereby preventing soil erosion. Placing nutrients in the strip maximizes efficiency and availability for the plant. Studies have shown significant yield improvement compared to broadcast fertilizer in a conventional tillage or no-till system and the ability to reduce application rates for increased farm profitability.
When to Strip Till?
Strip-till often takes place in the fall, giving the strips time to mellow over the winter ahead of planting. However, where field conditions are not suitable for fall strip tilling, strips may be made in the spring. Usually in spring, strip tillage depth is shallower to avoid bringing cold, wet soil to the surface, whereas in fall it will be deeper to have a greater volume of worked soil in the seedbed. Regardless of fall or winter strip tillage, creating a strip with a raised berm is an advantage. After fall tillage, the raised strip can weather over winter reducing the risk that the strip becomes a depression by spring. After spring tillage, the raised strip will dry out and warm up faster than the area between the strips, allowing planting to take place sooner while improving seed germination and emergence.
How do I Switch to Strip Tillage?
Making the transition to strip tillage requires careful planning and many growers choose to have a custom operator strip-till a couple of fields before making the change themselves. The strategy to make the change is going to vary depending on whether a grower is changing from a no-till or more conventional tillage system. In either situation, almost all customers find it necessary to utilize GPS guidance for strip-till as the same maps created by the strip-till operation will be used by the following planting operation for precise placement of the seed in the strips. Field condition should be evaluated, and compaction issues must be resolved – the strip-till unit is not a ripper! The strip tillage system is going to replace all other tillage operations across the field, so consideration should be given to residue management and how a good seedbed will be created in a single pass. Most prospective strip-till operators will evaluate multiple strip-till toolbars before deciding which will work best for them. The overall crop nutrient strategy also needs to be considered. Strip tillage provides the opportunity to begin splitting fertilizer applications and “spoon feeding” the crop rather than fewer larger applications of nutrient.
Is Strip Tillage better than Vertical Tillage?
Strip tillage is not necessarily better than vertical tillage, they are both environmental tillage systems with their respective agronomic and economic benefits and attributes. Both can manage residue, create good seedbeds, incorporate nutrients, manage moisture, and provide agronomically sound growing conditions for crops. The contrast is largely the different management styles associated with each. Vertical tillage equipment (like a KUHN Krause Excelerator®) is more broad acre focused with limited opportunity for variable fertilizer placement, while strip tillage equipment is more precision acre focused with many opportunities for variable rate fertilizer placement on every acre. Farmers can be successful with both methods, but each requires a slightly unique style of management.
What is the Difference Between Strip-Till and Conventional Tillage?
Whereas more conventional tillage methods focus on tilling the entire field, and are generally associated with broadcast fertilizer application, the aim of strip tillage is to micromanage just the strip of soil where the seed will be planted and applying fertilizer only in the root zone. Conventional tillage methods incorporate residue into the soil, while strip tillage manages the residue into the areas between the strips for moisture management and weed suppression.
How does Strip Tillage Compare to Other Tillage Methods?
Strip tillage has been proven to provide yield increases compared to no-till crop production, particularly in corn production. Studies have also shown that plant utilization of nutrients is improved by precise banding in the root zone, and that it can be possible to reduce overall fertilizer application to reduce crop production cost and improve profitability.