Strip-till is a conservation tillage method more Ohio farmers are digging into because it blends the benefits of traditional tillage with the soil health aspects of no-till. It also allows farmers to incorporate nutrients into the soil, which helps protect water quality. However, strip-till also requires specialized equipment and technology, and an investment of time to learn the new process.
So, despite all the benefits of strip-till, some Ohio farmers may still be wondering if it will provide a sufficient return on investment.
Nate Douridas is the farm manager for the Molly Caren Agricultural Center at The Ohio State University. He and his team have been examining a variety of strip-till aspects since 2012 in an effort to focus more on conservation. They’ve tested equipment, precision technology, fertilizer placement and watched soil movement across soybean and corn crop rotations. Douridas believes their research confirms strip-tillage with nutrient placement is an efficient practice that can preserve the environment without sacrificing yields.
“Strip-tillage helps us accomplish many of our goals in one pass. We believe it’s an effective way to improve our water quality and nutrient management,” he explained.
He says the key to adopting this practice is approaching it as a system. This means ensuring technology, equipment and inputs all work together to accomplish strategic goals. It starts with soil sampling and mapping to variable-rate nutrients. From there, they set up equipment to ensure row spacing, tillage depth, fertilizer placement and planter downforce are all aligned. Real-Time Kinematic (RTK) positioning is critical to keep planted seeds on the tilled strips.
Each year, they’ve adjusted their research to look at different aspects of strip-tillage. Farmers can view the most recent results online in OSU’s e-Field Guide, but here are a few highlights from their findings:
Overall results indicate there is no significant yield differences between crops planted in no-till and strip-till acres. This is a win in Douridas’s opinion because strip-till requires less labor and fertilizer than broadcasting but produces similar yields.
While there is only a slight yield gain in some locations with banded fertilizer, the fact that it’s placed subsurface in strips makes it more cost effective than broadcast and less likely to leave the soil. Douridas says this is an option for Ohio farmers to manage phosphorus as part of water quality efforts.
Depth of Banded Nutrients
They’ve adjusted the downforce on the planter and depth of the strip-till shank to see if these factors and nutrients have any effect on yields. Shallow placement of 2-4 inches tends to have a slight edge, which Douridas would like to investigate further.
They use a shank-style machine, which works well to fracture soil compaction and apply banded fertilizer. However, despite adjusting the depth of the shank, most of the nutrients tend to stay in the top couple of inches. In the future, they’d like to test a coulter-style row unit to see if it blends the fertilizer vertically through the strip.
With mostly positive results to date, Douridas said he plans to conduct research on more acres. He encourages farmers who are interested in exploring techniques to attend an OSU Extension field day or the nutrient application demo during the Farm Science Review. This allows them to look at different types of equipment, technology and see results without making any commitments.
Conservation tillage is just one of the ways farmers are improving soil and water quality in Ohio. Learn more about how other farmers are using conservation practices by reading these profiles.