Archive for the ‘Strip Till’ category

Strip-Till Guidlines

December 8, 2006


This week, I’ve spent a lot of time researching and attempting to write a comprehensive article on the practice of Strip-Till.  It’s no excuse, but it is the reason why I’ve been lagging behind in my posts this week.  Over the past three years, I’ve watched (and spoken with) numerous producers from around the country who have succeeded in implementing Strip-Till into their production strategies.  The following is a synopsis of what has worked for them.

It must first be stated, that StripTill has caught on in numerous sections of the country for various reasons.  That is, farmers in states farther north, such as New York and North Dakota, have different primary reasons for incorporating Strip-Till into their production strategies than farmers in Nebraska and Kansas.  Reasons for incorporating a Strip-Till strategy include faster warm-up of the seed bed (vs. No-Till), decreased production costs in fuel and fertilizer (vs. Conventional Tillage), moisture conservation (vs. Conventional Tillage), erosion control (vs. Conventional Tillage), and better residue management (vs. N0-Till).  Strip-Till truly is a middle ground between Conventional and No-Till practices, allowing producers to obtain certain advantages of both.  But with so many different reasons for incorporating it into a production strategy, Strip-Till means many different things to many different people.


The question most often asked by those trying to learn more is: “What is Strip-Till?”.  Most experts agree that Strip-Till is the practice of placing a strip no more than ten inches wide, and three to four inches tall, into the field; and then planting directly on top of the placed strip.  Consult local sources, but in some cases these measurements are critical in order to qualify for state Strip-Till programs.  Where opinions on the definition differ is what kind of nutrient to place at the bottom of the Strip, the type of equipment to use, and when to use it.

Nutrient Placement – A wide variety of nutrient types are placed 6-8 inches deep in the strip.  Of course, the amount of nutrient depends on what the crop will need next season, and the type is a function of what form is readily available in the area and price.  Soil type obviously plays a role in nutrient placement as well.  Some producers will inject N, P, and K.  Others will opt for just P & K, leaving the nitrogen application to be applied with the planter, or in side dress applications.  Most producers agree that fertilizer rates can be cut with Strip-Till applications when compared to broadcast fertilizers, because of the fertilizer’s proximity to the roots.  Those using precision Strip-Till applicators will employ variable rate applicators and apply based on prescription.

Types of Equipment to Use – There are many Strip-Till tools currently on the market.  Most employ either a deep Sub-Soiler Shank, or a standard fertilizer shank within their row unit configurations.  If you are going to Strip-Till, consider purchasing one from a manufacturer.  Farmers rarely succeed in building one themselves.  A section on what to look for can be found below.

When to Strip-Till – Most experts agree that Strip-Till is a practice that should be done in the fall.  This allows time for the strip to settle and mellow throughout the winter.  It also gives time for the fertilizer (placed in the strip) to disburse in certain soil types, reducing the risk of fertilizer burn on young root systems.  However, practicality overrules idealism in some areas; especially in those where winter comes early on wet clay soils and time dosen’t permit fall application.  If you live in an area where Spring Strip-Till is a must, consult local experts on the best way to proceed with your production strategy.


Strip-Till areas of the country can be broken down into the four areas shown above.  Please keep in mind that this map is simplified for purposes of explanation.  For example, a farmer in South Dakota may use Strip-Till for erosion control, moisture conservation, and faster warm-up.  The map simply defines areas where Strip-Till is used, and the primary use for it in that area.  Knowing that the primary reasoning behind Strip-Till may be different in different areas, we can begin to examine the components used in Strip-Till and the reasons behind the use of each.


Strip-Till Component Options

Strip-Till Components usually include (from front to back) a large coulter at least 20″ in diameter to cut residue, a residue manager to sweep away residue and provide a cleaner strip, a shank style conducive to stirring the soil and breaking up compacted layers where necessary, covering disks at least 17″ in diameter for filling and hilling the disturbed area, and a rolling basket to assist in firming and shaping the newly formed seed bed.

Shank and Point (Knife) Styles – Shanks are a vital component to the Strip-Till operation.  They place nutrient at the desirable depth (6-8 inches) and stir more soil for better warm-up.  In my opinion, Strip-Till equipment without a shank dosen’t do the same job.  Shank styles vary from the typical 1×2 flat fertilizer shank (max depth 8-10 inches) to Sub-Soiler shanks (max depth 18-20 inches).  The key to choosing the correct shank lies beneath the surface of your soil.  If your soil is prone to compaction, you must first gauge where the compacted layer(s) is.  For example, if compacted layers lie beneath the ten inch line you will want to consider a Sub-Soiler shank to break up the compacted layer while Strip-Tilling in a one pass operation.  Points for Sub-Soiler shanks vary, and do different jobs in varying soil types.  Common points are 2″ to 3″ flat or humped points depending on soil type and the amount of fracture you want to achieve.  Stay away from Sub-Soiler points that have wings, as they can do more harm than good in certain soil conditions.  If compacted layers are above 10 inches, or you have no compaction, a typical fertilizer shank will work just fine.  Knives for Strip-Till fertilizer shanks are commonly found to have a 1 to 1.5″ foot on the bottom.  These are typically referred to as mole knives and do a very good job in stirring up the soil in the strip.

Coulters and Residue Managers – The coulter is another vital component to the Strip-Till process.  At 5 miles per hour, a new series of residue will be processed through a Strip-Till row unit roughly every half of a second.  This will vary depending on the distance between the front of the row unit and the back of the row unit.  Because there are so many components involved in the process, cutting the residue first is a necessity.  Residue Managers assist in this process by sweeping the residue out of the row after it is cut, allowing the shank, hillers and baskets to have a cleaner path to work with.  They are nice to have on any Strip-Till machine, but are more important in areas where warming up the seed bed is a must.  The Residue Manager should be behind the coulter to sweep away residue afterit is cut.  Placing a Residue Manager before the coulter moves the residue away from the coulter blade, this keeps it from being cut and can result in plugging problems around the shank and hillers.

Hillers – Ideally, Hillers should be free floating (no down pressure) without springs.  This allows any remaining residue to flow more easily between the gap in the hiller blades without plugging.  Additionally, hillers with down pressure have been known to cause trenching on both sides of the strip.  This is particularly challenging in hills, as water can run down the created trenches (instead of soaking in) during significant rainfalls.  Flat Blades (instead of concave) can also assist in reducing the amount of trenching in a field.  In addition to this, they normally cost less than concave blades.  Again, Hiller blades should be at least 17″ in diameter.

Rolling Baskets – In fall Strip-Till operations, where a good freeze-thaw process occurs, baskets are optional.  Normally a strip will settle over the winter from 3-4 inches to 1-2 inches and any clods left in the strip by the shank and sealers will have mellowed.  Baskets in the fall become more important where the winters are mild, or where winter comes on too fast and a producer finds it necessary to finish up in the spring.  Baskets in spring operations are a necessity in order to produce a settled, mellowed, seed bed prior to planting.

Considerations Before Purchasing

Several considerations (other than soil type, climate zone, and residue situation) should be made before purchasing a Strip-Till implement.  These all have to do with the implement itself, and can be summarized into three categories:  1) Is the machine easy to operate?  2)  Is the machine easy to maintain?  3) Will it work for me?  All of these can be ascertained by doing a small amount of homework including reading literature on the product, calling the manufacturer, and looking at the product during a farm show or demo.

Is The Machine Easy To Operate – The primary concern here is the versatility of the implement.  Can it do a similar job in varying soil conditions and residue situations?  After all, residue situations vary from year to year; or you may rent a new piece of ground that has a different soil type and moisture content.  Can it be adjusted to handle various types of soil and residue situations?  How easy are these adjustments to make?  How forgiving are the components in differing soil types and residues if your going between fields and don’t have time for adjustments?

Is The Machine Easy to Maintain – This is where many Strip-Till Implements fall short.  Just by walking around farm shows and reading literature, I’ve found many that don’t make the grade.  One has a decal on each row unit that shows 18 grease points per row…all must be greased daily!  Many have five or six springs per row…that’s 60 or 72 springs on a 12 row implement that must be maintained and (eventually) replaced.  Be sure to look for maintenance nightmares in literature and at farm shows to be sure that you won’t spend more time in the shop than in the field.  If you can get a look at an operators manual, you will find clues there as well.

Will It Work For Me – One of the most important things to consider when making your choice in Strip-Till implements involves the experience of the manufacturer.  How many years have they been making ground engaging fertilizer application equipment.  Watch out for companies that did not make fertilizer application equipment before they started making Strip-Till machines.  Also watch out for companies that did not make ground engaging equipment before they started making Strip-Till machines.  Choosing a Strip-Till implement that is produced by a company that has experience in fertilizer application will help ensure that your fertilizer is placed at the proper depth, and evenly across the rows.  Choosing one that has experience in ground engaging equipment will help to ensure that the Strip-Till row units will function properly in yourtillage scenario.  Two companies (there are others) that were making both fertilizer applicators and ground engaging equipment long before Strip-Till was around are BLU-JET and DMI

Additional Considerations – Make time to attend a field demonstration of the Strip-Till equipment you are considering.  Better yet, try to schedule your top two or three choices to come demo on your farm.  Normally, Strip-Till manufacturers (or their representatives) can bring a smaller size demo unit out to your farm and show you how it works.  This also provides you an opportunity to solicit operating tips for your particular soil type, residue situation, and climate zone.  Be wary of a company that will not demo their equipment. 

Additional Note:  A demo at your farm doesn’t consist of 500 acres.  Usually a few passes is enough to tell whether you will be happy with the implement.


The consensus across the country is that Strip-Till works.  Producers who hire custom Strip-Till work can see a return of anywhere from $6 to $16 per acre after costs.  Several operational considerations need to be made depending on your location.  Consult local agronomy experts to determine fertilizer rates and types that will work best for you.  When considering equipment, keep in mind that a manufacturer’s experience may be the difference in success or failure.  If you speak to a company representative, ask for the “Strip-Till expert” to make sure you are getting the best information.  Attend a demonstration of the equipment before to buy to make sure it will work the way you need it to.