When Jeff Reints started strip-tilling nearly a decade ago, he used a homemade rig built with parts he already had. He built a strip-till bar using shanks to deep-place liquid fertilizer in the fall.
Dry fertilizer eventually replaced liquid and in 2008 Reints decided to strip all his fields in the spring with a prototype machine designed specifically for strip-till.
“If we can make spring strip-tillage work in 2008, we can make it work any year,” says the Shell Rock, IA, farmer. “We had double our normal rainfall every month for April, May and June. Tornadoes ripped through our county and with the heavy rains, one of our fields ended up 12 ft. deep in flood water.”
For Reints, and co-worker Bruce Swinton, strip-till balance soil conservation and maximum yields. “I no-tilled for years,” Reints says. “We evolved into strip-till for several reasons: yields were stagnant with no-till, a lot of years our planter didn't function well in the sticky and damp soil under the residue, we were getting too many attachments on the planter and tendering so much fertilizer it was slowing down planting.”
Spring strip-till particularly works better in fields where Reints plants corn-on-corn, he says. “The corn stalks decompose over the winter and it takes the fluff out of them. And, it reduces the erosion risk, particularly on moderately sloped ground,” he says. “It's like hitting the field with a field cultivator in the spring. We try and stay a day behind the strip-till machine with the planter. The planter firms up the strip and we see very little erosion.”
THE SWITCH FROM fall to spring strip-till meant switching from shanks to coulters for Reints. “Shanks don't work well in the spring. They can leave a void under the seed row,” he says. “Shanks lay fertilizer in a hot zone 6-8 in. deep. With the Dawn coulter units on the machine we used last spring, the dry fertilizer is blended into a band of worked soil that's 8 in. wide and 5 in. deep.”
Strip-till units with coulters require less horsepower than shanks. “I can pull this 16-row strip-till bar at 7.5 mph with a 275-hp tractor. I'd need a 400-hp 4WD tractor to pull that many shanks,” Reints says. “It only takes me 0.4 gal. fuel/acre to get a field ready to plant.”
Reints switched from liquid to dry fertilizer because of the dry product's cost and it gave him more flexibility in the blends he could use. “We apply 260 lbs. of 24-18-14 on ground that's corn-on-corn. Soybean ground that's rotating to corn gets 310 lbs. of 9-24-29,” he says. “We sidedress all cornfields with 100 units of N using 32% urea.” Soybean fields feed off the residual fertilizer from corn applications. Reints' yield goals are 190-210 bu. for corn, 55-60 bu. for soybeans.
“The whole concept of strip-till is feeding the plant rather than the soil. You put the fertilizer where the root is going to be,” Reints says. “You get the most bang for your buck and can reduce fertilizer rates without sacrificing yield.”
Reints no-till drills beans in 10-in. rows and with help from his son Clay, who recently joined the farm operation. All three machines run in different fields when it's time to plant. “We run the drill 6-8 hours a day while we're planting corn, and then push it hard once the corn is finished,” says Reints. “We get all the beans planted within a two-week period. The beans we plant in late April will usually out-yield the later beans by 3-5 bu./acre.”