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A refresher course in strip till

02/03/2014 @ 11:07am

Brian Clark and his brothers have been sold on strip-till since they started using it in the late 1980s. In fact, while some producers limit strip-till to corn on bean stubble, these Illinois farmers have been using a pair of machines in the fall following both corn and soybean harvest.  

For corn-on-corn ground, they depend on an eight-row Orthman 1tRIPr strip-till machine with the rolling baskets removed that they run at a depth of 10 to 11 inches in an attempt to remove all of the residue from the strip. For corn on soybean ground, they use a 16-row CFS/Westlake bar equipped with a mole knife and covering disks at a working depth of 8 inches.

Three strip-till issues

Unfortunately, prior to 2012, the brothers found themselves tearing up strips due to heavy rains that caused inversion and made strips too hard to plant. To make matters worse, when they did have to run the field cultivator to tear up poor strips, they were often left with clods, root-balls, and wheel tracks in the seedbed. 

“We’ve never been a fan of tillage if it was not necessary,” says Clark. “When we went from no-till to strip-till, it was like night and day on our heavier soil types,” he continues, noting that they had to go back to minimum tillage on the majority of corn-on-corn acres due to heavier residue and inconsistent condition of the strips.

Clark says they also experienced difficulty keeping their 16-row planter on strips made with the eight-row bar. The combination of all three factors, he insists, led to yield losses that had to be addressed.

The refresher

Now, after two years of side-by-side field trials – one of those being a wet year and the other an extremely dry year – Clark believes he has addressed all three issues that plagued their corn-on-corn strip-till program with a shop-built tool he calls a strip refresher.

As Clark explains, the refresher unit actually started life as a 16-row, three-point mounted cultivator. 

The first step was cutting a section out of the bar and shifting everything over so the row units would run on the row, rather than between them, as a cultivator would.

Next, Clark salvaged coulters from an old fertilizer rig, along with an old drill coulter cart. These were mounted on the main bar as lead coulters – one at the front of each row. Each large coulter was followed by a pair of smaller, wavy coulters that were designed to run on a slight angle to lift and fluff and to rebuild the strip. Those, in turn, were followed by a pair of Yetter depth-band row cleaners to maintain the 2-inch working depth. 

Each row unit features a rolling basket that leaves a perfect 10-inch-wide seedbed that easily matches the 16-row planter.

“Last year was the second year we used the strip refresher, and it has worked great both years,” says Clark. “We generally run it between 11 and 13 mph, using very little fuel in the process. In 2011, we ran it over all of our strip-till ground just to dry and warm the soil.” 

On the other hand, they only refreshed their corn-on-corn strips in 2012, due to the dry weather. Yet, their corn-on-corn strips yielded the same or better than the minimum-till fields in both years. Clark insists that both years also saw better strip-till plant health in the side-by-side trials.

In future years, Clark wants to try the refresher on the remainder of the minimum-till ground to work strips instead of using the field cultivator. He hopes to save moisture and fuel, as well as valuable time.