From 1991 until 1996, our publishing company produced a newsletter called Ridge-Till Hotline that was similar to what we were doing with No-Till Farmer. While the response to this paid newsletter was favorable, by the mid 1990s we didn’t feel the ridge-till acres were going to continue to grow. So we halted publication, much to the regret of many die-hard ridge-tillers.
For years, ridge-tillers had complained that no-tillers bad-mouthed this system. The biggest complaint was the fact that ridge-tillers relied on cultivation for weed control while no-tillers preferred chemical control. No-tillers also saw ridge-till needing more labor, cultivation taking place when hay should be harvested, and not being an effective tillage system choice for acreage expansion.
After strip-till got its start in the late 1980s and early 1990s, ridge-tillers began to wonder why no-tillers were quick to accept many of the ideas they hadn’t liked about ridge-tilling.
Here are a few ridge-till ideas that are used with strip-till.
Ridge-tillers ran tractor, planter and combine tires in the same field paths year after year, thus reducing compaction concerns. Tractors and combines were equipped with extended axles in order to line up similar tire paths. There were also mechanical guidance devices that kept planter row units in the center of the ridge.
Then GPS came along and made controlling traffic, and precise fertilizer and plant placement in strip-tilled berms, much easier.
Ridge-tillers banded nutrients in the ridge or close to it for maximum usage by corn and soybean plants.
Strip-tillers soon started banding phosphorus, potassium and a few micronutrients in the berms. This led to more effective use of fall-applied nutrients.
Building Berms (Or Ridges)
Strip-tillers rely on berms to help heavy soils dry out and warm up faster for spring planting. The berms allow growers to band and place nutrients where they will bring the most return. On the other hand, ridge-tillers relied on one or two late spring cultivations to build ridges where they would plant 10 or 11 months later.
Deep Banding Fertilizer
Like ridge-tillers did, strip-tillers deep band nutrients to reduce costly nutrient runoff and make nutrients more readily available to growing plants.
Ridge-tillers for years had seen the benefits of moving heavy corn residue away from next year’s planting area. When building berms, strip-tillers do the same with corn residue.
In summary, there’s no doubt that ridge-till served as part of the foundation for strip-till. Yet veteran ridge-tillers still remember when no-tillers didn’t have much respect for many of the ideas that are part of the key to success with today’s strip-till.