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Strip-Till Encourages Mellow Growing Conditions and Higher Yields
Innovator Gary Wolf enjoys trying something new. He’s found that the Maverick, a strip-tillage tool from Illinois, solves some old compaction problems for his land in southwest Missouri.
Wolf farms 325 acres of corn, wheat, and soybeans in Verona, Missouri, a town between Joplin and Springfield. He has a red, shallow, compaction-prone, clay-based soil. “It can be sticky when it’s wet, and hard as a rock when it’s dry,” explains Wolf. “Whenever it gets hard and dry, the rain will run off.”
He farmed that land with conventional tillage in the 1980s and 1990s. He tried zero-tillage for about five years but couldn’t get it to work on his soil.
Under no-till, he found it frustrating to irrigate one 90-acre plot. He’d apply ¾ inch of water and watch it run off to the neighbor’s land.
Wolf heard about strip-tillage up north as a new alternative, and he decided it could be worth trying. At a trade show in 2006, he purchased new Maverick strip-tillage units with rolling baskets, which were made by Yetter Manufacturing.
“When I went to strip-till in 2007, I could put on ¾ inch of water with no runoff, anywhere in the field,” says Wolf. “All that moisture ran right into the rows where the strip-till machine had worked. Now, if I get any kind of rain at all, it all goes in the ground; there’s no runoff. Strip-till keeps that ground loose in that row. That’s a big plus.”
He’s made a couple of adjustments but still has the original six-row, 2984 Maverick on 30-inch spacing (shown above). It’s changed his success with farming.
The Maverick is a one-pass system between harvest and planting. It has coulters that open the ground to clear a path for seeding, a shank for deeper ripping, another set of coulters for closing the furrow, and a rolling basket to pulverize clods.
“I have an area about 6 inches wide that looks like it’s been plowed; it’s that soft and mellow,” says Wolf.
The basic Maverick helps him conserve moisture. It only works about 6 inches on a 30-inch row, but the shanks go deeper than disks.
In March, ahead of corn planting, he puts the shanks down at 8 inches deep and pulls at 6 to 8 mph with a 160-hp. tractor. If he walks on a 6-inch row, it’s just like walking on plowed ground, he says.
Wolf chose deeper-reaching shanks as opposed to another coulter to fracture his hardpan. Later, he added a 1-inch mole knife to the bottom of the shank to improve its ability to fracture his deeper hardpan. In 2011, he plumbed the Maverick for a liquid fertilizer kit.
“I get a better plant population in that soft ground than I did with no-till in hard ground,” says Wolf. “My seed boxes hardly move at all now. With no-till, they bounced quite a bit. I get a more even planting depth and more even spacing.
“It paid for itself in two years,” says Wolf. “It makes me about 10 bushels an acre on corn and on soybeans. Since I started doing fertilizer with it, it’s doing even more.”
His soft red winter wheat is still no-till, but he’s out with the Maverick right after the wheat is off. He plants short-season soybeans into that ground around July 1 to get a double crop.
“I will strip-till no matter what the conditions – whether it’s wet or dry,” he says.
In July 2012, it was hot and dry. Two friends asked Wolf if his Maverick could work the hardpan.
“Normally, one of my neighbors does conventional tillage,” says Wolf. “I didn’t put on any fertilizer for him, I just did strip-till. After that, he saw a foot of difference in the corn.”
Another friend, who does no-till, asked for help. “His land that was strip-tilled made twice the corn per acre than what was no-tilled,” says Wolf.
Wolf is also a custom spray applicator and works with an agronomist from northern Missouri. After hearing that deep-placed potash was benefitting corn in the North, he decided to see if a liquid fertilizer option could help at home in southwest Missouri.
For 2012, after a trial the previous year, he installed two fertilizer tanks on his Maverick, added a pump, hoses, and other hardware to deliver the fertilizer behind the shank openers.
He put nitrate below the corn at first. He expanded that to 60 units of nitrate and 50 units of potash for 2013. He plans to bump those another 20 to 30 units.
“I’m seeing a really big difference by strip-tilling and putting that nitrate and potash in-row underneath corn. It is doing an awesome job,” says Wolf. “I had 60 pounds of test weight corn this year on dryland, after five weeks of really dry weather. I didn’t get any rain when the corn was filling. My irrigated acres did well, too, and the kernels of corn were really big. I attribute a lot of that to the seed-placed potash.”
Wolf broke new ground in 2007 with strip-till in southwest Missouri. In 2011, he became the first in the county to plant fall cover crops. His rotation is wheat-soybeans-corn-corn. County officials who had not seen either cover crops or strip-till came out to see Wolf’s farm, after he made the first claim in the county for cost-share on a cover crop.
“I had to tell them what I was doing, what my process was for doing the cover crops, and why I was doing it,” says Wolf. “I did about a 50-foot strip of cover crop for them with the Maverick, and then I invited them to just step in that row. It was like I’d worked that ground at least twice with a disk. I’ll never go without a strip-till machine when I’m in row-crop farming."