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Strip-Till Odyssey

Agriculture.com Staff 07/06/2010 @ 5:17pm

After spending 15 years practicing various forms of full-width tillage, Brian Monroe of Roseville, Illinois, switched to fall strip-till for the 2006 growing season.

He was attracted to strip-tillage for several reasons. Some of those reasons had to do with costs, some had to do with the nature of the ground he farms.

"I thought I was wasting a lot of time and a lot of fuel," he says. "I've always felt that if there's a way you can cut down on your passes and raise just as good a crop, then you had probably better do it."

He and his dad, Terry, had made another major tillage change a few years earlier. "When I started farming in 1990, we were still moldboard plowing all of our cornstalks," he says. "Within five years we were no-tilling soybeans with a drill. We saw what a great success that was at keeping the soil where it should be -- on top of the hills instead of at the bottom."

Labor is a big concern for Brian as his dad approaches retirement. "I want to be able to farm the same number of acres but do it with a little part-time help instead of two or three guys."

Because the Monroes were already applying anhydrous ammonia in the fall to soybean fields headed to corn, strip-till didn't increase the fall workload appreciably. Meanwhile, it reduced the spring workload significantly. In soybean stubble headed to corn, the Monroes previously made one and often two passes with a field conditioner.

The heavy gumbo soil they farm doesn't respond well to tillage, however. "We have fought that gumbo ever since the beginning of time," says Brian, pictured at right. "Every time we work it, it gets a little worse.

"We can get a better stand with strip-tillage than we can when we beat the soil to death," he says. "When we come in and lay those strips down in the fall and let them mellow out all winter from freezing and thawing, we've got a nice seedbed."

After spending 15 years practicing various forms of full-width tillage, Brian Monroe of Roseville, Illinois, switched to fall strip-till for the 2006 growing season.

Because of the gumbo soils, Brian likes the strips to be 7 or 8 inches wide and bare of residue. That way, he says, the strips warm up faster than worked ground, and that's important in his heavy soils.

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