With proper application of modern technology, farmers can afford to see their fields for just the rows.
"Strip-till is really just an outgrowth of anhydrous application, and that's just how simple it can be," says Dave Nelson, a multiyear strip-till farmer with Brokaw Supply Co. in Fort Dodge, Iowa. "You're already putting on your anhydrous or your phosphorus and potassium down into the field; it just makes sense to put your rows right on top of where those nutrients are."
In addition to precise placement of nutrients, strip-till is intended create a churned seedbed that allows rows to dry and warm faster than the rest of the field.
Iowa State University agronomist Mahdi Al-Kaisi says strip-till has been shown to have a positive effect on corn germination and demonstrated yield gains of up to 15 bushels per acre for corn planted into bean ground.
"The argument for tilling corn residue to improve organic matter is not supported by research," Al-Kaisi says. "There is however evidence that strip-till allows us to use essentially a no-till system in corn stalks without any loss of yield."
Three farmers who have successfully employed strip-till — Nelson, Mark Mitchell from Estherville, Iowa, and Allen McCarty of Linn Grove, Iowa — shared lessons they have learned while using the system.
They say specialized implements are not a necessity for strip-till. Many farmers create their own toolbars by combining components from other equipment. However, they add, the best results are achieved with the use of high-precision, global-positioning technology.
"Some form of auto-steer is a must," Nelson says. "There are GPS systems that are more and less accurate, but if you put your seed in the middle of that berm, it's going to find everything it needs right there and it's not going to have to use energy sending out extra roots to find it."
Each of the farmers agree that using strip-till has allowed them to lower costs for fertilizer by as much as 50% and complete field preparation with fewer passes. They also say the system did not, as some had feared, require significantly more horsepower to tow the combined tiller-fertilizer equipment.
Disadvantages to the system include complexity and a diminished effectiveness where strip-tillage cannot be completed during fall.
They agree the program could easily take on varying levels of complexity, from simply applying anhydrous on-row instead of on the diagonal, to configuring a dedicated strip-till toolbar for application of multiple nutrients at variable rates.
The success of strip-till is also more dependent on moisture levels, the farmers say. They found their equipment was effective in wetter spring soils and most effective when winter freezing and thawing had time to break up the soil in strips made the previous fall.