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Strip-Till in Minnesota

Dead center in Minnesota, a modest corn-soybean farm has been happily breaking the tillage rules for about six years. For his situation, a one-pass four-in-one strip-tillage program works the best, says Terry Rickbeil, of Rickbeil Farms, Browerville, Minnesota.

Better than no-till
Rickbeil farms 900 acres. The soil is sandy, coarse textured, and well drained. Most acres are irrigated. The farm has a short planting season and a short growing season. Some fields are in conventional tillage. He tried zero tillage for a few years, but strip-till is his preferred choice.

“I try to get in as early as possible,” says Rickbeil. “I’m working with a limited number of growing-degree days, and every day counts. Some years I have heavy spring rains. Nine years out of 10, I can have a dry spell in summer at a critical time.

“With irrigated crops, I have a lot of residue from the corn,” he adds. In fact, it was no-till soybean performance in disked pivot irrigation tracks that led Rickbeil to see if he could make strip-till work better than no-till.

“The no-till was slow to grow because the ground was too cool,” explains Rickbeil. “Where I had disked irrigation pivot tracks, the beans always seemed about 6 inches taller. So I decided to try strip-till to open up the soil and to warm it a little.”

That was in 2008. Rickbeil settled on doing seedbed preparation for his soybeans with new Yetter Manufacturing Maverick strip-till row units.

“I put eight on my existing toolbar and gave it a whirl,” says Rickbeil. “Later, I stretched out the openers and put the knife farther back than the original design, to give me better residue flow.”

Time for an upgrade
In 2013, Rickbeil went shopping for a 12-row upgrade. He didn’t have more ground, but he wanted to cover it faster with 12-row strip-till and planter systems. He settled on the newer 2984 Maverick HR Plus for strip-till.

Price was one of the big factors while he shopped for a bigger strip-till system.

“There is a whole gamut to choose from,” he says. “This was reasonably priced. A lot are over $3,000 per row unit. These were approximately $2,300 per row unit. That was the number one factor.”

Price wasn’t the only reason. The Maverick HR Plus row units are a little heavier than the previous model, have more clearance for heavy trash flow, and are about the same length as the units he modified a few years earlier.

“The original design of the Maverick wasn’t ideal in heavy cornstalks,” he says. “I had a lot of plugging issues. Stretching it out and lengthening it made a big difference.”

The strip-till row units have more than average corn residue to cope with. Rickbeil has a typical 200-bushel yield on irrigated corn. He doesn’t run a chopping head. Instead, he uses knife rolls on his corn head.

“Maverick does a pretty good job of working through that residue in the spring,” he says. “The residue has more chance to flow through the unit instead of bunching up. It has to go through four components – the slicing opening coulter, the trash whippers, the knife right behind that, and finally the sealer blades.”

He cleans and opens 8-inch planting strips for his soybeans midway between his former 30-inch corn rows.

It’s a personal choice, he says, but he prefers the SharkTooth residue manager wheels to notched concave disks for cutting through heavy corn residue. He runs the fertilizer placement knife at 8 inches deep and finds that he has good placement.

The 2013 strip-till operation wasn’t any faster, as it turned out, but he’s happy with the wider system.

“To be honest, it probably took about the same amount of time. That’s because I spent a lot of time adjusting the planter, getting it fine-tuned,” he says. “Hopefully, next year will be a lot faster. There’s always a learning curve.”

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