Dairy farmer Mike Nutcher, who owns and operates Hidden Valley Dairy near Modesto, Calif., began experimenting with strip-till silage corn production in 2002 following his winter forage harvest. 

Before the spring of 2002, Nutcher used a pretty standard tillage approach to forage production as outlined above.

Hidden Valley is a medium-sized, independent dairy with 1,200 cows. Nutcher, his wife and his crew of 10, manage the entire operation. To provide a steady supply of forage for his cows, he grows about 350 acres of forage next to his dairy.

Immediately after harvesting his winter forage on April 7, he used a six-row Unverferth Ripper Stripper with 30-inch spacings to till 6-to 8-inch strips in the flat soil in which he had grown his winter forage. Strip-till rigs are often fitted with "clod busting" rollers that smooth surface soil and prepare seedbed conditions prior to planting.

Nutcher strip-tilled 17 acres on April 8, and then had a six-row John Deere corn planter follow immediately behind. He used a RoundUp Ready silage corn hybrid.

By using strip-till, Nutcher figures he saved about 2 weeks of time in conventional tillage land preparation operations, as well as a pre-irrigation work that may have been required in conjunction with his standard spring tillage approach.

Nutcher was able to establish and eventually harvest an adequate crop with strip-till. During the season, he used glyphosate to control weeds. He harvested the silage on August 19.

"I think that our first try at strip-tilling turned out pretty well,” Nutcher says. “We averaged 29.5 tons per acre of corn silage on the strip-till field, while the ranch average was 31.5 tons per acre.

“I think there are two main things that we could have improved on — better plant populations, by keeping the corn planter better in line with the strip-tiller and/or having more down pressure on the planter; and having more fertilizer available at planting."

Nutcher says what he learned about his strip-till experiment.

Savings from strip-tilling versus conventional tillage



strip-till pass

$15 per acre


$15 per acre

Conventional Tillage 



$10 per acre


$18 per acre


$10 per acre


$15 per acre

finishing tool

$12 per acre


$15 per acre

“Because we gained 2 weeks on our growing season with our double-crop of sudangrass for silage we were able to gain 5 tons of silage more per acre than our conventional-tillage fields,” Nutcher says. “That’s a plus of $60 per acre, with silage at $12 per ton.”

Nutcher wants to better align the strip-tiller and the corn planter and create a more level field.

“We had to use cross levies to flood irrigate the corn because the ground wasn't level,” he says.

Nutcher also wants to be able to spread manure and mix it into the ground before planting.

“I think there are great advantages to this system, with the money and time savings it offers,” he says. “It takes some forethought and planning to make sure you have enough moisture in the soil.

“We irrigated 12 days prior to chopping the winter forage and had no problems with the moisture level when we were ready to plant the corn with the strip-tiller."

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in a Conservation Tillage Workgroup case study of the University of California Extension.