There’s an economic case for strip till

The technique can save time and organic matter when it comes to soybean production

While strip till has long been shown to have ecological benefits, a recent field day at the Ian N. Morrison Research Farm suggests there are also economic ones for producers to consider.

“We have basically made a case study where we compare one pass, versus two passes,” said Patrick Walther, speaking to a group of farmers during the Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers annual SMART day in Carman last week. He noted conventional systems generally involve two passes with the disc, whereas strip tillage uses a single pass.

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“So fewer passes will save a little bit,” he said.

The University of Manitoba graduate student has been studying the effects of corn residue management in soybean production for the last year and a half, but said producers should also look at the value of their time when making tillage decisions.

“With strip till you can save on time and a little bit of fuel as well,” Walther said, adding two passes with a disc burns about 5.1 litres of fuel per acre whereas one pass with strip till uses only two litres per acre. Those using vertical tillage will consume a little bit more fuel than discing, but will spend less time behind the wheel.

“Vertical till is very fast… you are just flying over the field,” he said.

Of course the biggest drivers for producers are still emergence, stand health and ultimately, yield.

While it’s far too early to make any conclusions based on the corn residue project, Walther noted that final plant stand after emergence was basically the same across all tillage treatments at the four test sites. In 2016, MacGregor and Haywood only had a slight lag in the discing plots.

“But I don’t want to say that discing has a slower emergence, by any means, because this year you have to look at the conditions behind it and they were really dry… and it dried out the discing treatment far more than the strip till,” he explained.

No difference in soybean yield was observed at the 2015 Winkler plots after corn residue treatments, but that same year MacGregor plots with high-disturbance vertical tillage yielded a little higher than strip till. However, both of these treatments were statistically equivalent to double-disc and low-disturbance vertical-tillage treatments.

When it comes to soil temperature, strip till had the highest daytime temperatures and the lowest nighttime temperatures — at least until it was rolled. Walther believes that one reason for larger fluctuations in strip till is that corn residue is pushed out of the zone of tillage, while a fluffy soil berm full of air pockets is formed.

“But there is still a lot more research to be done on this,” he said, adding the program is also looking for farmers to partner with as they plan next year’s test plots.

He also noted that tillage is only one small factor in the larger economic and agronomic matrix.

“My key point is that tillage decisions have to be made in a broader perspective including thoughts about soil erosion, fuel consumption, time requirements and machinery costs,” he said. But he added that strip tillage continues to yield interesting information and possibilities.

About the author

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Shannon VanRaes is a journalist and photojournalist at the Manitoba Co-operator. She also writes a weekly urban affairs column for Metro Winnipeg, and has previously reported for the Winnipeg Sun, Outwords Magazine and the Portage Daily Graphic.

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