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Bio Strip-Till: Best of Both Worlds

Using cover crops with strip-tillage helps growers improve the crop-row environment, build soil organic matter and protect fields from erosion.

There’s a new hybrid practice growers are taking advantage of that marries the benefits of cover crops with those of strip-till.

The practice of “bio strip-till” represents an advanced way of using cover crops to improve the crop-row environment, says Joel Gruver, a cover crop and soils agronomist at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Ill.

The concept is very new and is being defined mostly by cover-crop innovators. While more must be learned about yield impacts, advocates say bio strip-till improves soil health, reduces erosion, scavenges nutrients for the next crop and speeds up residue decomposition.

Bio Strip-Till’s Roots

Using radishes and other crops for bio strip-till started with cover-crop pioneer Steve Groff, the Holtwood, Pa., no-tiller who founded Cover Crop Solutions.

“I first started using this concept with Tillage Radish as a way to allow other cover crops to compete and establish,” Groff says. “I planted every other row with Tillage Radish, using a grain drill.”

Ironically, it was Lisa Stocking —a University of Maryland graduate student who later married Gruver — who gave him the idea.

Groff and Stocking blocked off holes in a no-till drill with 7½-inch spacings to place Tillage Radish on 30-inch rows. Then they planted into the strips of winterkilled radishes the following spring.

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“I’m not sure who coined the phrase ‘bio strip-till,’ but it certainly fits the concept,” Groff says. “Later, when we started using precision planters — Ohio no-tiller David Brandt was the first farmer I know who did this — it…

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Dan Zinkland

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