Archive for the ‘Minnesota’ category

StripTill In Minnesota

November 15, 2006

I had the distinct pleasure of traveling a good deal of Minnesota over the course of last week.  Nothing brings back a spring in the step more quickly than crisp cool
Northern Minnesota air in early November.  My route took me from Watertown, SD, across the state on U.S. Highway 212, through Minneapolis, northeast to
Duluth, back across U.S. Highway 2 through Bemidji, down U.S. Highway 75, and back to Watertown.  It was, of course, a beautiful drive.  It’s really too bad that I was conducting business along the way.

 

Besides the crisp air and the abundance of trees, one other item from the trip has stuck in my mind as a constant in many parts of the state.  Fields, where the recently harvested crop once stood, were turned pitch black by tillage implements.  In an age where conservation farming is routinely practiced and preached from coast to coast, why has Minnesota been left behind?  Conservation programs are in place in the state to encourage farmers to be better stewards of the land, but it seems that these programs have fallen on deaf ears.

conventional-tillage1.jpg

For those new to farming terms, Conventional Tillage (turning it black) is defined as mixing crop residue into the soil.  It promotes better breakdown of the residue and contributes to better soil warm-up for better germination in the Spring.  No-Till is defined as leaving more than 70% residue coverage on a field while it is idle.  This helps prevent wind and water erosion, but does nothing to promote residue breakdown or soil warm-up.  Strict No-Tillers try not to work the soil at all.  They rely on biological mass, earthworms, and other natural forces to keep the soil in good condition.  Several tillage strategies fall into the No-Till category.  One of these is StripTill, which leaves a worked strip of soil among the residue.  The farmer will then plant next year’s crop into these worked strips.  The idea is to promote soil warming while minimizing the effects of erosion.   I’ve simplified these explanations in the interest of brevity, but it will at least give the laymen an idea of what is being discussed.

 

Solutions to conventional tillage practices such as No-Till have been around for decades.  StripTill is a more recent phenomenon and is in the beginning stages for some areas of the country.  In others, it has been practiced for years.  I inquired in several coffee shops along my route to find the answer as to why everyone seems to choose to incorporate Conventional Tillage into their production strategy.  A majority opinion soon began to develop from this inquisition.  It seems that a majority of Minnesota farmers do not utilize a strict No-Till strategy because the soil will simply not warm up fast enough for row crop scenarios.

striptill.jpg

So what about StripTill?  When I asked this question, I found myself in the teacher’s role, instead of the student’s.  Most had a general idea of what the concept was, but had not considered trying it.  Some had blown it off as the latest farming fad, others had no idea what the benefits were.  As I explained it to them, (the added benefit of soil warm up while limiting erosion, feeding the plant instead of the soil with fertilizer, the decrease in amount of fuel used) it seemed to make sense to some.

Will StripTill catch on as one of the best ways to farm, combining environmental advantages with a positive crop production strategy?  It takes time to convince a farmer that doing it the same way his father did it is not always the best strategy.  It will take time, but I feel that it will prevail.

For more information on StripTill, visit http://www.wq.uiuc.edu/Pubs/LW3.pdf#search=’Strip%20Till’