Switch To Strip-Till

He eliminated three tillage passes with a shop-built 60-ft machine.

By Greg Lamp

Last winter Andy Hart didn't have any luck finding a strip-till machine big enough to do what he wanted on his rolling hills at Elgin, MN. So like many farmers he made his own luck — literally — by building it himself. When spring sprung, he was hitting the fields with his new shop-built, 60-ft. wide strip-till machine, made to fit his 24-row, 30 in. Kinze planter.

Being conservation minded, he wanted a big strip-till machine so he could build strips in the spring and avoid soil erosion from fall-built strips.

“I wanted it last year because of high fertilizer and high fuel costs,” he says. “I figure I saved about $15/acre on fertilizer and about $25/acre with fewer trips over the field on our corn-on-corn ground. I also wanted more crop residue and organic matter in the soil, and I get that with strip-tilling.”

Typically, Hart ran over his fields about five times, one trip each to:

  • Shred stalks in the fall
  • Chisel plow in the fall
  • Apply fertilizer in the spring
  • Field cultivate in the spring
  • Plant

Now, he's down to two trips across his fields, one for running the strip-till machine and one to plant. “I usually try to wait about a day between to let the soil dry out and warm up,” Hart says. “But sometimes I can go back and plant three to four hours later.”

Hart's not a newcomer to trying new ways to farm more efficiently and at the same time stop soil loss. Ten years ago he tried zone-tilling, but his unit had both the strip-till function and the planter combined into one unit. “It didn't work that well because I really needed to let the soil dry for a few hours before planting,” he says.

Hart's farm in southeast Minnesota is hilly and broken into several small fields. So, he wanted a piece of equipment where he could pull into a field and work it — fast. And he can do just that with his new 200-acre-a-day strip-till machine.

When building the strip-till machine, Hart used a 60-ft. Bauer bar with 24 Dawn strip-till units, an 8,000-lb. Gandy fertilizer box and a 6-in. Unverferth fertilizer auger. He also added a Digistar scale under the Gandy Box to make sure fertilizer was applied at the right rate.

“We wanted to make use of what we had and tried to build a setup that one person could operate,” Hart says. “Plus, we needed something that worked in our hills and we didn't want to pull a cart because we usually have to back into corners on some of our odd-shaped fields.”

In total, the equipment ran about $115,000: $50,000 for the Bauer bar, $20,000 for the Gandy box with hoses, $39,000 for 24 Dawn units, $1,200 for scale parts, $2,500 for the auger and about $2,300 for steps, deck work and freight.

The unit was built to flex every 8 rows and folds to 16 ft. wide for road transport.

“I believe strip-tilling can work for anybody and any size operation,” Hart says. “We think it will pay for itself in three to four years in fertilizer and fuel savings alone.”

Push The Envelope

Planter with 9-in. paired rows on 36-in. centers do the trick.

By Dave Howe

Ask Jerrad Stroh what his corn seeding rate is and you might think you misunderstood his answer. But no, you heard right — 35,000 seeds/acre. Soybeans go in at 210,000-225,000 seeds/acre.

Those numbers make more sense when you learn that he plants 9-in. paired rows on 36-in. centers with a planter that he and his cousin Phil Grothen built. The idea is to push plant population while providing more space per plant and improving crop canopy.

“The increased soybean seeding rate doesn't slow me down since I can load up with 50 bu. among the three hoppers (on the planter),” says Stroh, who farms near Juniata, NE. “I've tried 250,000 (seeds/acre) and they were my best beans last year,” he adds. “But you have to draw the line on seed cost somewhere.”

He plants both corn and soybeans no-till with his 24-row planter — 12 pairs of row units, each pair spaced to plant two rows 9 in. apart on 36-in. centers.

Of course, that's not the kind of planter you can order from your implement dealer. This one comes from three old eight-row International Cyclo planters resurrected from the junkyard.

He credits Grothen from Juniata, NE, with the inspiration to build it. They had to do several things to put the paired row units close enough together on an Orthman toolbar to plant 9 in. apart.

On each pair of row units they cut a couple inches off the right side of the lefthand row unit's parallel linkage and did the same on the left side of the righthand row unit. On the righthand unit, the cast iron spine was replaced with a new one that made the righthand opener disc lead so the side thrusts were balanced between the two row units.

The cheek-by-jowl row units also necessitated a single-gauge wheel on each double-disc opener, rather than a pair of gauge wheels on each opener. With one gauge wheel per row unit, the paired row units float independently.

Stroh and Grothen placed a soil-firming skid shoe next to each inside disc of their double-disc openers. That keeps the opener discs from picking up soil from the seed-slot sidewalls — what Stroh calls “sidewall blowout.”

They replaced the original fork frame on the firming wheels with a single, beefed-up arm running back to each firming wheel axle.

And what about those extra gauge wheels they removed when they went to one gauge wheel per double-disk opener? Stroh and Grothen used those with the extra cast iron planter-unit spines to build planter-like V-slot opener fertilizer attachments. They mounted the attachments to the planter front toolbar by parallel linkages from old Hiniker spin sweeps.

Through these attachments, liquid fertilizer is placed in a clean V-trench about 2½ in. deep between each set of 9-in. rows — about the same depth as corn seed is placed, says Stroh.

The planter's old Cyclo seed drums are operated off ground-driven hydraulic motors to automatically tie drum speed to planter ground speed. The three drums are directly driven by three orbit motors plumbed in series. They receive their fluid via a steering valve (much like the one used on your tractor's power steering).

Seeding rate changes are accomplished with sprocket combinations which drive the steering valve at different speeds. This system eliminates shafts and universal joints. Transmitting the drive power to each Cyclo module through hoses makes planter folding simple, as the two outside modules fold with the wings.