Weathering Unpredictability and Stabilizing Yield with Strip-Till

A USDA plant physiologist explains how results of recent tillage comparisons reveal strip-till may be the best practice to address future environmental conditions.

LESSONS LEARNED. ARS plant physiologist Jerry Hatfield if strip-tillers start looking in that soil and at plant-to-plant variation, there is a lot of variation that is induced by tillage. Early season plant vigor is the reason strip-till is successful in this regard, he says.

Dr. Jerry Hatfield, who runs the National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, a USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) facility in Ames, Iowa, says soil resources and weather are changing rapidly. 

“The last few years of weather data lay on the fringes of what we’ve experienced in the last 120 years,” he says. “We see that across all the Midwest and we can expect this trend to continue.” 

Hatfield has done extensive research on the interactions within the soil-plant-atmosphere spectrum and their connection to air, water and soil quality. His recent research examined the correlation between early-season nutrient applications on plant health in strip-tilled corn and its impact on yields. 
It’s his belief that farmers need to rethink their approach to soil degradation. 

“We underestimate degradation, and we think if we apply more nitrogen (N) or other nutrients or till the soil more, all of our issues will be over but that’s not what happens,” Hatfield says. “Yield is not necessarily the measure of how efficient our systems are. Profit is the ultimate measure of efficiency.”

Because they wanted to start promoting no-till and reduced tillage practices, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship asked Hatfield and his team to extensively compare tillage systems across…

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