“To me, it’s a real nice compromise.”
– GREG ENDRES, NDSU
Row crop farmers who want to switch from conventional tillage but not to zero till may find a middle ground with strip tillage. Strip tillage is a system which allows growers to seed directly into a prepared seedbed while still retaining crop residue on the soil surface. The system combines the agronomic benefits of both conventional and zero tillage, said Greg Endres, a North Dakota State University extension specialist.
“To me, it’s a real nice compromise between those two tillage systems,” Endres said following a presentation at Manitoba Ag Days.
Endres described strip tillage as a two-pass system for row crops. Narrow strips six to 12 inches wide are tilled into crop stubble with the area between the rows left undisturbed. Fertilizer is injected into the tilled area during the operation.
Strip tilling is usually done in the fall, although it can be done in the spring before seeding.
The advantages of strip tillage are several, Endres told producers.
Strip tillage uses less energy than conventional tillage systems because only part of the field is tilled.
It reduces soil erosion and conserves soil moisture because most of the soil surface remains covered with crop residue.
Tilled strips warm sooner in the spring, promoting seed germination and plant emergence. This is particularly important for heat-loving crops such as corn. Endres said NDSU studies found corn plants emerged an average two days earlier under strip-till conditions than zero till.
Strip tillage also releases less carbon into the atmosphere because it exposes less soil. It also helps to maintain a higher soil organic matter content.
But strip tillage also
TWO-PASS SYSTEM: North Dakota agrologist Greg Endres says strip till has advantages over conventional tillage.
carries some disadvantages compared to conventional tillage, Endres noted.
It requires special equipment costing more money. Obtaining machinery parts and service can be an issue. Putting down strips during
a wet fall (like last year) can produce a soggy mess instead of nice clean-cut strips. Applying strips precisely also requires expensive GPS or electronic guidance systems.
Research at NDSU indicates yields and crop performance with strip tillage are just as good as with conventional and no till, and sometimes even a bit better.
Corn, soybeans, dry edible beans, sunflowers and sugar beets are the crops best suited to strip tillage in the U. S. Midwest, said Endres. He’s seen it practised in North Dakota since the mid-1990s. Most of it occurs in the southeastern part of the state and west of the Red River Valley.
Scott Day, a Manitoba Agr icul ture, Food and Rural Initiatives diversification specialist, couldn’t say how much strip tillage occurs in Manitoba. But he does know a local manufacturer who promotes a unit for the practice.
Day said strip tillage could expand the planting zone for row crops in Manitoba, especially sunflowers.
But the practice requires very precise GPS guidance to be successful, he stressed. Seeds must be planted directly into the tilled strip, otherwise the advantage is lost.
One such system is RTK (real time kinematics) guidance, which has a one-inch accuracy. Day said RTK uses both a satellite GPS signal and a second signal from a fixed point on earth, usually a transmission tower, to correct for mistakes.
It’s the next generation of precision farming but it’s also very expensive. Producers must decide if RTK is economical for them to use, said Day.