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Iowa farmers say strip-tillage is the way to go in their operations

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

simmet@agrinews.com

MASON CITY, Iowa — Four north Iowa farmers are among those who are sold on strip till. They say the system gives them good yields while saving soil.

The farmers — Wayne Fredericks, Osage; Jeff Reints, Shell Rock; Brad Watson, Clear Lake; and Doug Caffrey, Thornton — were featured on a panel at the recent North Iowa Strip Till Expo at North Iowa Area Community College in Mason City.

Strip-till is a system in which residue-free strips of soil are tilled ahead of planting using a knife apparatus such as a fertilizer injection shank.

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Fredericks started no-tilling soybeans in 1992, but continued to conventionally farm corn acres with a field cultivator. In 2001, Johnson Chemicals in Osage purchased a strip-till rig and he started strip-tilling his corn.

Fredericks said strip-till/no-till saves soil and leaves good residue cover.

"We have white snow in the ditches instead of black snow," Fredericks said. "We drastically improved our infiltration rates when we get rainfall."

Strip-till and no-till saves time. He farms 976 acres and he is able to put the crop in himself. His system also saves money.

"I don’t have the overhead in equipment and I have competitive yields," Fredericks said.

Johnson Chemicals tills his strips in the fall using real-time kinematic satellite navigation.

"I know the strips are laid out perfectly straight," Fredericks said.

He plants with a John Deere 7200 12-row corn planter and a 15-foot drill for beans.

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He applies liquid phosphorus and potassium in fall and all nitrogen goes on in the spring. It gives Johnson’s more time to make the strips because they don’t have to wait until it’s less than 50 degrees for nitrogen application.

Trash whippers are Fredericks’ favorite piece of equipment on the planter. The planter has a spading wheel on the rear and adjustable down pressure springs.

Fredericks said sidedressing nitrogen has resulted in an 11.5 bushel per-acre yield increase.

Reints farms 2,000 acres of his own ground and custom farms another 1,000 acres.

He started with no-till and struggled with yields. He tried a Rawson system for a few years.

"Not a bad system, but we were always working in that wet sticky bean stubble," he said.

He then used several shank-type strip-till machines. His first was a home-built model. Next he moved to several Progressive units. Then he switched to Dawn Pluribus units on a 16-row Harvest International toolbar.

He strip-tills in the spring, and puts on phosphorus, potassium and a third of his nitrogen with a Montag cart.

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"You have a five-inch deep by eight-inch wide nutrient-rich mellow seed bed to plant into," Reints said. "The main thing with strip-till/no-till is that you’re saving soil."

Watson has strip-tilled for 12 to 14 years. He had a landlord who insisted on no-till, which evolved into strip-till on one farm and then to his entire operation.

He started by making his own unit, but now has Dawn Pluribus strip-till units.

"I like it really well," Watson said. "There is beautiful soil condition in the spring. It’s quick, and it pulls easy. Compared to pulling a shank through the ground, it requires low horse power and is very efficient fuel-wise."

Caffrey made his own strip-till bar in 1989 using fertilizer coulters off a corn planter and put covering disks behind them. He eventually bought a 12-row unit with markers with knives and coulters behind that he’s used for 8 to 10 years.

Caffrey added a driving system to his tractor three years ago.

"It’s the best thing I ever did," he said.

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