BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — When he was the guest speaker at the first National Strip-Tillage Conference a decade ago, Tony Vyn, a Purdue University researcher, called strip-till “the near-ideal tillage system for row crops.”
At the 10th National Strip-Tillage Conference, held in Bloomington Aug. 3-4, Vyn told a crowd of more than 350 that he still thinks strip-tillage is ideal and has the research to prove it. But it hasn’t become the dominant tillage system. He attempted to answer why.
The need for more research is part of it, he said.
“Strip-tillage is underfunded. We need to have a bigger funding source,” he said.
Citing research projects spanning 20 years, he showed time and time again when strip-tillage yields won in yield trials compared to no-till, conventional, vertical till, and moldboard plow.
From such research, Vyn said he is confident to say strip-tillage allows equal to higher corn yields, more uniform plant growth, earlier planting dates and less soil compaction.
However, he isn’t convinced about some claims that P and K rates can be lowered long-term, that starter fertilizer can be eliminated or that row positioning doesn’t matter.
As for the reasons more farmers in the U.S. Corn Belt and Canada aren’t using it, he said it requires a higher level of management. Strip-tilling is affected by a lot of technical factors, he said.
While strip-till practices have progressed, development continues.
“It’s in its adolescent age,” said Anthony Montag, CEO and visionary of MonTag, a company that manufactures carts and fertilizer systems and is one of the sponsors and exhibitors at the conference.
The biggest driver for farmers to get into strip-tilling is economics, he said. It reduces input costs including fuel, labor and equipment. He said the lack of used strip-till equipment shows the demand for it.
Soil health and the environment are part of its appeal, but soil health isn’t improved by just one practice, Montag said.
The downside to strip-tillage is it requires more intensive management, he said. The system demands specific nutrient placement, weed control and planting techniques.
Vyn said strip-tillage isn’t the best option for corn on corn. It does better after soybeans or wheat.
Conventional tillage is better at controlling weeds.
Strip-tillage doesn’t do well on poorly drained land but performs well with systematic drainage. It also doesn’t do well on certain types of clay soils or with slopes of more than 4-5%. No-till performs better on some slopes.
Innovations are making it more consistent. While Vyn recommends fall strip-making, he said some fields and seasons may require spring refreshing or spring strips. He was initially skeptical of refreshing.
“But in reality, it is not always possible to make fall strips,” he said.
In the last 10 years, there has been more spring rainfall.
“In some regions, it may be necessary to have a spring backup plan,” he said.
As the popularity of planting soybeans early grows, strip-tillage shines with its dark soil heating up faster than soils in other tillage choices. However, planting may be slower on the strips. High-speed planting works better under conventional tillage systems, Vyn said.
More research is needed, said the professor and Extension crop specialist.
“Maybe we need a Strip-Tillage Association with a state checkoff board,” he said, as a way to help the practice grow.
Among those conducting extensive strip-tillage outside the university setting is Jason Webster, lead agronomist at the Precision Technology Institute in Pontiac, Illinois.
Webster, who manages 160 agronomy trials on 400 acres, told conference-goers that strip tillage is his preferred tillage method.
Now in its fifth year of trials at the Precision Planting research farm, strip tillage has outperformed other tillage systems every year, Webster said.
“It’s winning,” he said.
Both yields and profit are higher than conventional and no-till. However, he has been told that in future trials no-till will be competitive for profits now that he has been using it for five years.
Webster, who also led strip- tillers on a tour of the PTI research farm in Livingston County on Aug. 2, attributes some of the success for soybeans to being able to plant early on the warm strips. As well as yield and profit, strip-till research on the plots in central Illinois includes nutrient timing and placement, and banding.
Webster said one of the drawbacks to more farmers adopting strip-tillage is not being able to successfully use it on 15-inch rows. Webster challenged equipment manufacturers to build something that will allow him to use both strip-tillage and 15-inch rows — two systems that consistently produce high yields, he said.